The Invisible Man (2020): ‘A Well-Crafted Low Budget Thriller’
Photo: Universal Pictures © 2020
Cecilia receives the news that her abusive ex-boyfriend has committed suicide. However, she begins to suspect his death is a hoax.
Leigh Whannell follows up his excellent low budget sci-fi Upgrade (2018) with a re-imagined take on The Invisible Man. This is the second attempt Universal have tried to relaunch their classic monsters. 2017’s The Mummy was that first attempt, and it failed miserably to kick-off a whole new cinematic universe. With too much time spent world-building, it didn’t hold-up as a stand-alone movie. Learning from their mistake, Universal have now teamed up with Blumhouse Productions. With their more low-budget approach to film-making, they provide a more self-contained and personal narrative.
The story centres around Cecilia (Elizabeth Moss), who’s trapped in a controlling and abusive relationship with scientist Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Opening with her leaving him in the middle of the night, she seeks refuge with childhood friend James (Aldis Hodge). A few weeks later Adrian supposedly kills himself, and Cecilia believes her nightmare is over. However, strange things begin happening around her, and she feels a presence watching her. What she soon realises, is that Adrian has found a way to make himself invisible. Using this new technology to torment her, Cecilia is slowly driven insane.
For what could have been another bloated and unnecessary blockbuster, The Invisible Man is a really good movie. Whannell strips the story right down and structures it as a psychological horror set in contemporary society. Focusing on Cecilia, this is more about her journey coming out of a toxic relationship. The invisibility aspect is almost an afterthought, and is used primarily as a plot device, rather than the main driving force of the story. Adrian’s sole purpose of using this incredible ability is to torment and to control Cecilia. He’s essentially the ultimate gas-lighter, constantly making her look mentally unstable.
Using a slow-build approach, Whannell paces the film masterfully. When Cecilia escapes Adrian, he begins playing mind tricks on her in a very subtle way. This slowly and perfectly escalates, building the suspense in a way that you’ll hardly notice. Doing little things like moving objects around the house that will gradually rise the tension. Then jolting you out of your seat with an explosive act of violence. Repeating that on several occasions, this only adds to that unnerving atmosphere.
‘Having experience in the horror genre, Whannell clearly knows how to craft all this together.’
Minimal film-making at its best, he gets the desired response from the audience with just the cinematography and sound design alone. Holding shots of a room for an extended period of time. Or the camera slowly panning an area. They’re all designed to have us frantically scanning the screen for unexpected movement. And expertly raising that tension by the power of suggestion. Combined with a low-key, almost non-existent score, it will no doubt unsettle you. There’s nothing flashy or glossy about it, and yet this ends up working in the movie’s favour.
Hence the title, we don’t actually see a lot of Adrian, and The Invisible Man rests exclusively on Moss’s shoulders. Fortunately, she doesn’t disappoint, and she fantastically carries the story. Cecilia is a well drawn-out character, being both a beaten down yet strong resourceful woman. Moss uses that great material and skilfully displays those opposing aspects in a believable manner. You really feel her fear as she slowly realises what is happening. Also, the way she has to interact with thin air to make it look like she’s fighting Adrian is brilliantly done and riveting to watch.
- Directed by: Leigh Whannell.
- Cinematography: Stefan Duscio.
- Film Editing: Andy Canny.
- Music: Benjamin Wallfisch.
- Screenplay: Leigh Whannell.
- Screen Story: Leigh Whannell.
- Based on the book by: H.G. Wells.
- Books by H.G. Wells (AMAZON.CO.UK)
- The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells (PENGUINRANDOMHOUSE.COM)
- H.G. Wells Biography (BIOGRAPHY.COM)
- The H.G. Wells Society (HGWELLSSOCIETY.COM)
- Hidden figure: how The Invisible Man preys on real-world female fears (THEGUARDIAN.COM)
- How ‘The Invisible Man’ made a terrifying villain that you can’t even see (INSIDER.COM)
All external links will open in a new window.
What little visual effects that are used to bring Adrian’s invisible form to life, are economically utilised. Just through the way a scene is filmed, you can feel his presence. Cleverly done, it helps keep the budget down and plays with the audiences’ imagination. The only flaw you could really point at are minor plot holes that require some suspension of disbelief.
‘Those small issues aside, The Invisible Man is an excellent movie.’
Doing something different with this well-known entity, it’s an ingeniously thought-out and constructed story. Showing what you can achieve with a small budget, it also proves expensive action scenes and the star power of Tom Cruise don’t always equal a success. All Whannell needed was some clever film making and a winning performance from Moss. If this is the direction Universal want to use going forward for their classic monsters, they could potentially have a successful franchise on their hands.
David has quite a broad taste in film which includes big budget blockbusters and small indie films; including International and Arthouse cinema. As long as it’s good in that particular genre, he’ll watch anything.
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