So many film remakes have offered nothing new from the original, ultimately resembling a quick cash grab more than anything else. Successful ones, however, seem to have absorbed the times in which they’re made such as the Red Scare subtext of the 1956 Invasion Of The Body Snatchers outdone by the post-Watergate paranoia in the 1978 remake. With many incarnations under its belt based on the H.G. Wells classic novel, a reboot hardly feels necessary, but naysayers have severely underestimated writer/director Leigh Wannell (Upgrade). The new version of The Invisible Man with its grand score, sleek, ultra-rich design, white knuckle suspense, and powerful female star turn brings an up-to-the-minute subject matter to the table.
Elisabeth Moss stars as Cecilia, an architect, who when we first meet her, awakens in her Bay Area beach mansion and escapes her abusive husband Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) in the middle of the night. A couple of weeks later we catch up with her as she hides away at her police officer friend James’ (Aldis Hodge) home which he shares with his whipsmart teenage daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). Paranoid and rendered agoraphobic, Cecilia worries her tech-savvy husband will eventually hunt her down. When she learns of his suicide and bequeathal of $5 million to her, Cecilia can finally breathe easily again. Of course, anybody who can read the movie title will know the story does not end here. What starts as intuition before it leads to outright terror, Cecilia soon figures out that Adrian has found out a way to stalk her by rendering himself invisible.
I won’t spoil what follows, except to say that this premise pays off beautifully. In this #metoo era we’ve learned to listen to and to believe women, especially when reporting discrimination or sexual crimes against them. When nobody believes Cecilia, she’s instantly branded as crazy. As such, we feel every bit of Cecilia’s isolation thanks to Moss keeping a tight grip on her character and letting us experience her pains and fears every step of the way. Wannell has developed into a director who understands how to acclimate his audience to the spaces his characters inhabit. In one early shot, we see Cecilia prepping her escape. Wannell chooses to pan away from this to show us the distance to the front door. Now, he puts the audience in Cecilia’s shoes as we truly understand every quiet step she’ll need to take to find her freedom. Wannell also understands suspense, literally mining it out of very little by counting on Moss to convey her ever increasing fears. Sure, he loads the film with jump scares, very effective ones at that, but he takes his time building up to them so that we are first fully on board with Cecilia. From her, from her smarmy brother-in-law attorney (Michael Dorman) and from her estranged sister Emily (Harriet Dyer), we learn not only so much about what makes Cecilia tick, but we also discover how Adrian preyed on her weaknesses.
Wannell’s tight screenplay also contains a good handful of surprise twists, one in particular, in a fancy restaurant scene, which stunned me. As things grow more violent and dire, Cecilia lashes out at everyone in her path, furious that nobody will buy into her somewhat preposterous story. Moss seems to have summoned up every horrible Harvey Weinstein story, every abused woman’s testimonies and channeled it into a stunning display of rage. While the supporting characters deliver fine performances, this film belongs to Moss.
Wannell did fine work elevating the pulpy material of Upgrade. Here, he takes things seriously, but still manages to go delightfully over the top, especially in a scene which involves way more police officers than necessary or even possible. He may be going for a grand scale, but he knows we have to love Cecilia for any of this to work. At times, the film harkens back to such early 90s zeitgeist thrillers as Basic Instinct and Julia Roberts’ Sleeping With The Enemy, both solid, populist blockbusters. Like those two, The Invisible Man, while a lot of fun, doesn’t achieve greatness. It’s fun, bold, surprising, overly-violent, and captures a perfect snapshot of our times, but in the end, it’s a really solid B-movie.
Glenn Gaylord’s 50 SHADES OF GAY SCALE: The Invisible Man gets a 0 out of 50. Nothing gay to see here folks!
By Glenn Gaylord, Senior Film Critic
The Invisible Man can currently be seen everywhere worldwide.