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‘The Invisible Man’ needs to be seen

by Anthony Herring

 Back in 2017, Universal Pictures released the film The Mummy as a reboot of the titular franchise. Starring superstar Tom Cruise, it was meant to act as the start of the “Dark Universe,” a shared cinematic universe featuring Universal’s classic movie monsters. The studio went all in at the start of the Dark Universe, planning films based on Frankenstein, the Bride of Frankenstein, the Phantom of the Opera, and the subject of this review--the Invisible Man (which was supposed to have Johnny Depp as the titular character). However, plans changed soon afterwards, as The Mummy ended up being both a critical and commercial failure.

After the disastrous performance of The Mummy, Universal decided to move away from this model and opted for stand-alone films that were not meant to be part of a shared universe. These films were to be distributed by Blumhouse Productions, which has risen to prominence in recent years due to distributing such films as Get Out and Us.

With this in mind, we find ourselves with this new interpretation of The Invisible Man, itself distributed by Blumhouse. It stars Elizabeth Moss (of The Handmaid’s Tale fame), who plays a woman gradually losing her sanity as her ex-boyfriend--who is presumed to have committed suicide due to her leaving him--torments her as the Invisible Man. Thankfully, The Invisible Man delivers on providing an entertaining thriller, but not without its fair share of problems.

Moss is a boss

In the film, Moss plays Cecilia Kass, the girlfriend of the highly intelligent and extremely wealthy optics specialist Adrian Griffin. However, things do not bode well for Cecilia, as Griffin is domineering, controlling, and physically abusive. She escapes from him at the very beginning of the film, and from this point all the way to the end credits, we see Moss’ acting on full display.

Image from IMDb

She does an excellent job bringing forth the anxiety and desperation that a person in her situation would experience, and it shines in the moments when she reflects on her relationship with Griffin and when the Invisible Man is tormenting her (more on that later). There is a scene early on in the film where Cecilia describes how abusive Griffin is that illustrates this. While she was talking, Moss’ voice cracked, her body language displayed a significant unease, and her eyes jumped back and forth between the people she was giving the information to, showing the discomfort her character was in. There were many similar moments sprinkled throughout the film--especially as Cecilia’s life got increasingly worse--that helped in making her a sympathetic and believable character.

Seeing is believing

The biggest issue by far with The Invisible Man is that it is hellbent on constantly dialing out expository dialogue to the audience rather than illustrating information in an interesting, visual manner. Griffin/Invisible Man suffers the most from this, with exposition frequently given about his character. Time and time again, people like Cecilia and Griffin’s younger brother Tom mention that Griffin is a horrible person: “He needs to be in control.” “He needs to be one step ahead.” “He needs this, he needs that.” After about the fifth time someone said that Griffin was a control freak, I was extremely frustrated. Movies are a visual medium; if he is a controlling person, I want to see it. Scenes of him constantly putting limits on Cecilia’s life would’ve added more emotional weight to both her character and her story arc, while also further illustrating the threat that Griffin posed to her life. Unfortunately, the audience is just expected to take this in through explanations.

Well, that’s just out of character, isn’t it?

Another big issue with the film is the supporting characters. While some are executed better than others (such as Cecilia’s best friend, James Lanier), pretty much all of them are defined by a singular, generic character trait. James is the protective friend. Tom is the angry younger brother who’s happy that Griffin got what he deserved. Cecilia’s sister, Emily, is the supportive sister. (It’s never revealed if she’s younger or older). These characters all served their purpose in the film, but it would have been nice to see a bit more from them than what was given.

Image from IMDb

The supporting characters also suffer from odd writing choices that completely contradict what their respective characters were established to be. For example, at one point during the film, Emily receives an email from Cecilia that tells her she no longer wants her help. This email wasn’t actually Cecilia’s doing, but another character’s, and instead of questioning the validity of the email, Emily just goes along with it. She practically cuts herself off from Cecilia, making matters worse for our protagonist.

There’s an Invisible Man... sleeping in your bed…

When it comes to Griffin wreaking havoc as the Invisible Man, the film shines. Cleverly subtle details in both the environment and the cinematography help to illustrate his presence, which elevated the level of terror. There would be footprints on the floor, objects would move across countertops, and breath would be shown in the cold outdoors. The camera would linger on empty hallways, empty chairs, and empty corners even, hinting to the audience that the Invisible Man was present and watching.

The Invisible Man sequences earlier in the film were far more entertaining than the ones later on, as they brilliantly built up tension and effectively executed the action. The use of lingering shots, pulsating music courtesy of composer Benjamin Wallfisch, Elizabeth Moss’ performances, and practical effects made these scenes not only palpable, but terrifying. However, I can’t say the same for the later sequences. Unlike the more horror movie-esque execution of earlier scenes, these scenes felt like something out of a superhero film. The Invisible Man displayed abilities that a regular man like Griffin wasn’t established to have, and it felt ridiculously out of place. In particular, one sequence in a treatment center illustrates this, and it was incredibly irritating to watch.

Featured Image: IMDb

Images: IMDb