** out of ****
(for some strong bloody violence, and language)
Released: February 28, 2020
Runtime: 124 minutes
Directed by: Leigh Whannell
Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Harriet Dyer, Storm Reid, Michael Dorman, Oliver Jackson-Cohen
Despite an intriguing, relevant hook, the remake of The Invisible Man lacks vision.
Putting a #MeToo twist on a horror classic and then doing nothing substantial with it, writer/director Leigh Whannell (of the Saw and Insidious franchises) delivers a huge missed opportunity with his alternative approach to the now-defunct Dark Universe, Universal Studios’ ill-fated Monster Cinematic Universe (a multi-film project that quickly died after one entry – Tom Cruise’s The Mummy – before it could ever get to Johnny Depp’s planned Invisible Man entry).
Based on box office success, Universal made a savvy pivot toward producer Jason Blum, whose Blumhouse label has churned out small budget horror with big profit margins (Paranormal Activity being his first major breakout). Upping the investment a smidge but still landing much lower than your typical effects-laden tentpole, The Invisible Man establishes the Dark Universe 2.0 as being a lean yet slick.
Too bad the same can be said of the script.
Elisabeth Moss stars as Cecilia, the abused wife of violent tech genius Adrian Griffin, a global leader in the field of, er, Optics. (That’s it. That’s the field. Just go with it.) She escapes the prison of their stylish seaside mansion, only to learn weeks later that Adrian has committed suicide. Or has he?
Before long, Cecilia is being haunted by an unseen presence that makes efforts to confirm that it is indeed Adrian. Cecelia is convinced that he has used his Optics expertise to devise a way to make himself invisible. Everyone else thinks she’s crazy, of course, especially as Adrian’s veiled stalking makes her act increasingly so.
That dynamic makes up the bulk of the two-hour run time, but with a familiar haunted house formula and a spook that’s merely a force rather than a developed character, The Invisible Man is thin on depth, lazy on plotting, and cheap in its terror (leaning heavily on loud sound effects and bombastic music like a crutch – indeed, the whole soundscape is completely obnoxious), indulging its cliché machinations for a half-hour longer than necessary.
Whannell’s script asks us to accept too many allowances along the way, and leaves obvious questions completely unanswered (like, say, why a genius – even an abusive one – would bypass certain billions in monetizing his invisible invention to, instead, fake his own death for the sole purpose of covertly menacing his wife – like he couldn’t do that while still living?).
There’s a shocking turn halfway through that promises to ramp up the stakes with complex possibilities, but instead that’s when things get really ridiculous as the final act defies logic even within the established parameters of its high concept.
The buzz around this re-imagining is how timely its themes of violent misogyny are, but they’re appropriated in the most superficial way, to the point where it feels more as if Whannell is simply exploiting them.
His use of framing and empty space is effective if not inventive (ditto his lo-fi visual tricks), thankfully it’s never lurid (an excess that the premise could’ve easily indulged in), and Elisabeth Moss gives the material more conviction than it deserves, but her prodigious talents and steely commitment aren’t enough to make this preposterous slice of revenge empowerment gore remotely provocative.
With such a golden opportunity wasted, I couldn’t help but wonder what a more serious artist like Jordan Peele or David Fincher might’ve done with the same concept. Sure, if all you want is a jump scare genre exercise, The Invisible Man should do the trick. But if you need something more, look elsewhere – because there’s nothing to see here.