Right from the beginning, The Invisible Man isn’t setting out to be just another reboot. Most modern reboots, especially ones based on well known properties, try to get by on a half-baked story loaded to the brim with nostalgic references to the film or films that came before it. Studios think that by doing this, audiences won’t be able to notice that they’ve only put a quarter effort into actually making a good film.
This new version of the classic Universal monster is far from just another studio cash grab of a reboot. Sure, it’s based on an iconic character that many are still a fan of. But aside from one shot, this film isn’t content to rely on the cozy presence of nostalgia. Its goal is to take the iconic character and carve a unique image for him; one that stands apart from the other interpretations. And boy does it succeed.
Putting a very contemporary twist on the classic story, this new film follows Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss), a woman who is married to a brilliant, world-renowned optics scientist and billionaire named Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). On the surface, Cecilia’s relationship seems like a dream come true; a luxurious life with a rich, intelligent man. It seems nothing could go wrong with this picture.
Expect for one thing. As it turns out, Adrian isn’t the good man he may appear to be. Underneath his arguably charming exterior is the soul of a master manipulator. He has a sinister, psychotic mind with the intent to control everything in his life; including Cecilia. He laid down law on everything from what she wore to what she thought, and was always able to figure out whenever she stepped out of line.
But Cecilia has had enough. One night, she makes a harrowing escape from Adrian’s fortress of a home. Holding up in the home of her friend James (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid), she is surprised when it is discovered that Adrian has died of an apparent suicide. Even more surprising is that he left her an apology note and his substantial fortune. Things appear to be turning around for her. But she isn’t too convinced that things are over. Knowing his ability to manipulate people, Cecilia thinks that this is some big hoax, even though she’s the only person who believes this. Things get worse when strange events begin to happen to her and she starts getting the feeling that someone is watching her. As these experiences begin to turn violent, she believes that Adrian has found a way to hurt her so know one else can see it. He has found a way to turn himself invisible.
This more modern premise is where the movie really excels. While adding a feminist spin on stories is nothing new, certainly in today’s film industry, this film is one of the few to do it well. Movies like last year’s Black Christmas failed spectacularly by being a one-sided story that demonized all men; portraying them as sexist monsters in unrealistic ways and killing all the ones that try to help. The Invisible Man, however, isn’t that one-sided.
While it is about Cecilia going up against the man who beat and manipulated her, some of her biggest allies are men. Other than Adrian, no one is trying to force their way onto her. This makes the story less niche than the aforementioned film. Women can enjoy watching the lead fight back against her abuser, while men can enjoy the action without feeling called out and accused of something not everyone is guilty of.
This is held together by a fantastic performance from Elisabeth Moss. She gives a raw and completely unhinged portrayal of a woman who is so broken that she has lost all concept of how to work in the real world. She never comes off as trying to fake the emotions. As the movie goes on, she really looks like she is gradually being broken down on every level.
Oliver Jackson-Cohen also gives a great performance as the titular monster. Coming off his breakout performance from Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House, he imbues the character with all the evil charm people say he has. When we do actually get to see him, he looks like a guy that you would want to spend time with. And when he’s the threat of the scene, he is a genuinely menacing presence. The fact that he can effortlessly switch between the two is a quite an accomplishment.
This is also all thanks to the guy at the helm, writer/director Leigh Whannell. Following his partnership with director James Wan, he’s had a hit-or-miss time getting going, but this is definitely his best film. With Insidious: Chapter 3, he showed that he knows how to craft horror; and with Upgrade, he showed that he has a unique eye for action sequences. Here, he gets to combined both to make a relentlessly tense and action-packed experience.
After failing to launch a cinematic universe of their classic monsters, it’s safe to say that Universal made the smarter decision here. They now plan to reboot their iconic characters as individual films rather than a Marvel-style franchise, and that’s the way to go. These old characters deserve modern-day reboots. With technology so much better than it was decades ago, these classic characters can finally get the chance to be kings of horror once again.
The Invisible Man begins this new era of Universal monsters with a bang. This new interpretation of the horror icon successfully brings him into the 21st century with a story that doesn’t go out of its way to isolate certain audiences, with great performances from the cast and brilliant writing and directing work from Leigh Whannell. This movie proves two things; that reboots can create their own identities without the use of nostalgia, and the Universal monsters are just as scary now as they were almost a century ago.