Leigh Whannell returns in full force after his visceral sci-fi darling, “Upgrade” (released in 2018) to reinvent the classic H.G. Wells novel for modern audiences in one of the most successful Universal Monster films we have seen in years. “The Invisible Man (2020)” is an intense thriller that will have you examining every corner of the frame as Whannell masterfully builds tension with every passing second. The film places Elisabeth Moss front and center as she leads the film and puts on a fantastic yet transformative performance that sees her falling deeper into the abyss of paranoia and trepidation. “The Invisible Man (2020)” is an exciting film that is not bound by Universal’s haphazard decision of trying to create a disastrous shared monster universe (something Universal tried with “Dracula Untold” in 2014). This film is proof that eager visionaries can craft great works without the interference of lousy studio heads and executives. “The Invisible Man (2020)” stands as being the first truly must-watch film of 2020.
“The Invisible Man (2020)” may share its name with H.G. Wells’ original novel published in 1897, and Universal Pictures 1933 film adaptation, but that is where the similarities end. “The Invisible Man (2020)” opens with Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) as she quietly plans to escape the prison she calls “home” under the cover of night. Cecilia quickly gathers her belongings and desperately flees from her abusive and controlling millionaire boyfriend, Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Having run away, Cecilia contacts her sister, Emily (Harriet Dyer) and gets a ride from her to leave the area once and for all. Cecilia refuses to seek shelter with her sister for fear that Adrian may find them both due to him knowing Emily’s home address. She decides to take refuge with an old friend, James Lanier (Aldis Hodge) who is now a police detective and his daughter Sydney Lanier (Storm Reid), a student wanting to make her mark in the fashion industry. However, Cecilia still fears for her life not knowing when or where Adrian may strike; so much so that she can hardly even step foot out of James’ home. That is until Emily arrives at the Lanier residence and reveals to Cecilia that Adrian was found dead in his home due to a successful suicide attempt. Emily also notes that Adrian left in his passing five million dollars that are all to be paid out to her. Hearing the news, Cecilia is conflicted and becomes overwhelmed but a veil of relief washes over her prompting the next phase. Cecilia takes back control of her life and moves forward. Unfortunately, along the way, several instances of misfortune strike her life and Cecilia believes in the truth that Adrian is not actually dead at all. It is here where Cecilia begins spiraling out of control and those around her begin questioning her every move, all while she battles with trying to unmask the culprit behind the veil of the Invisible Man.
“The Invisible Man (2020)” is a project that Leigh Whannell was intimately attached to. Whannell not only worked behind the camera as the film’s director, he also penned the original screenplay, and acted as an executive producer behind the film. It should be stated that without Whannell’s close proximity and handling of “The Invisible Man (2020)”, this film would not be what it is. Given the subject matter, is it clear that Whannell had a specific approach to the directing of this film; he had a distinct vision he wanted to execute. Going into a screening of “The Invisible Man (2020)” the audience is already privy to the fact that whoever or whatever the threat may be, we will never fully be able to see it. Whannell takes this information and perfectly plays on that individual fear by ratching up the tension in every scene. Whannell does this by applying a couple of impressive techniques. For starters, let us begin with Whannell’s shot selection and camera movements. Throughout the entirety of “The Invisible Man (2020)”, we as the audience are just as unsure of the threat’s presence as Cecilia is. Our levels of immersion are locked in as Whannell will have actions occurring on-screen in one corner of the frame, but he slightly shifts the camera over to the uninhabited space where he holds it and lingers on the emptiness until switching the focus back to the present action. This is a brilliant method at play that keeps our eyes scanning the entire scene as we attempt to spot a curtain slightly shift or find that an object has been displaced; we investigate closely as a means of gaining any kind of clue as to where this invisible being may be lurking. Another technique Whannell employs with the camera is his “pov” shifts. I put pov in quotes because we are never quite sure if we are looking through the Invisible Man’s eyes, or just viewing the scene from a different perspective. We are positioned in empty doorways or down a hallway just beside a corner patiently watching character interactions unfold waiting to strike. These techniques have been used by scores of directors in the past and they will continue to be used until the end of time, but Whannell makes it work because the looming threat is never known to the characters or the audience.
Whannell not only works magic behind the camera as the film’s director, but he also shines as the sole writer on this project. Taking an old classic and attempting to reboot it for mass audiences can be an extremely tough ask for many. Questions will rattle in the minds of both writers and directors as they try and figure out a way it can be done. Whannell took the hokey-wacky character of the Invisible Man from the ’30s and ‘40s and found a way to reinvent him in a shocking way that takes a more modern approach. Whannell also takes the entire original narrative and turns it inside out opting to show how those affected by the crazed Invisible Man fall into insanity, rather than having us watch as the Invisible Man slowly rots into lunacy. Despite all of that being said, the greatest asset of the script is its well-fleshed out characters. From side characters like Sydney and Tom (Michael Dorman) to main ones such as Cecilia and James, every character is tended to with a great deal of care. No one is left behind or presented as a one-note pony that is there to serve a particular archetypal role; it is absolutely refreshing. Whannell’s good character work is only bolstered by the cast, as everyone onboard delivers performances that are grounded in reality. No one plays their characters in an off the wall manner or comes across like a cartoonish exaggeration mimicking reality, which is fantastic, as it ensures the tone of the film persists. Yet, there is one performance that stands out from the crowd and it should come as no surprise that the honor is given to lead actress herself, Elisabeth Moss. Moss works wonders with Whannell’s script as she allows the audience to feel the dread collapsing upon her with every passing moment. When she frantically searches a room for her invisible predator or must plea with those around her for help, Moss does so in such a manner that will you wondering how she pulled it off. From her line delivery to physical presence, Moss delivers a stellar performance that is equal parts emotional as it is terrifying. We hold her hands as we dive down a deep well of panic.
“The Invisible Man (2020)” is a film that takes the classic H.G. Wells story and adapts it through a contemporary lens of reality to great success. With Whannell’s exciting script and brilliant direction, he perfectly reinvents the tale of the Invisible Man in a way that will have audiences questioning their own vision. With exceptional character development that allows every performer (both major and minor) to deliver good performances across the board to unsettling shots that will leave you questioning, “The Invisible Man (2020)” is a suspense thriller that exceeds the bland staples the genre has been plagued with for years. That is why, all of these attributes and more make “The Invisible Man (2020)” this year’s (this decade’s) first must-watch film.