Hey, do you all remember a few years ago when Universal Studios decided that they would try their hand at this whole Expanded Universe thing that Disney was making so much money with by creating a series of wildly popular films featuring their classic Monsters? No? You all aren’t still huge fans of the Dark Universe movies? If none of that made any sense to you, I’m jealous, because that means you never watched one of the most hilariously incompetent major studio movies of the decade, the Mummy, an utterly ridiculous attempt to rapidly build up an MCU-esque universe revolving around Tom Cruise as a mummy/mummy hunter. It was quite bad, and instantly killed an entire franchise that was about to be built up, and which Universal was ready to really put their weight behind. But, after the spectacular failure of the Mummy they realized that treating their monsters as pseudo-super heroes in action blockbusters maybe isn’t the way to go. And, after some reflection, they decided to swerve into just about the opposite direction. Because Universal decided to do something that made a shocking amount of sense. They’re going to go back to basics, and make a series of low-budget horror movies, utilizing the iconography of their classic monsters, and giving over the reigns to one of the most successful purveyors of low-budget horror working today, Jason Blum. His company, Blumhouse, has been behind some of the biggest sleeper hits in horror for the last decade, and the idea of taking these Universal Monsters and giving them more stripped down and frightening takes seems like a no-brainer. I’m not quite sure if the plan is to dive fully into this model now, and that they’ll somehow find ways to make low-budget modernized versions of characters like Dracula or the Wolf-Man next, but out first glimpse into this new vision of the Universal Monsters has been released in the form of Leigh Whannell’s the Invisible Man. And, folks? It rules
The film follows a woman named Cecilia Kass, who has been in a highly abusive relationship with a wealthy and reclusive scientist named Adrian Griffin. And, as the film opens, she has concocted a plan to drug Adrian and flee from his compound, attempting to save herself. And, despite some hiccups, she successfully flees his home, and ends up going to stay with an old friend of hers, a policeman named James. She stays with James and his daughter Sydney for two weeks, until she gets a notice in the mail from Adrian’s lawyer brother Tom. It turns out that Adrian has committed suicide, and has given Cecilia a large amount of money. She takes it and creates an account so Sydney can go to college, hoping to finally move on with her life. But, we learn that something mysterious is happening. Strange things begin occurring around Cecilia, almost like she’s being haunted by a vengeful ghost. Accidents around the house, finding herself being drugged mysteriously, and a sabotaged job interview all start to make her suspicious, and she starts to fear that Adrian, who was an expert in the field of optics, has found a way to fake his suicide and turn himself invisible to torment her. Everyone around her doubts this insane claim, and they find themselves increasingly pushed away from Cecelia, with her sister receiving a cruel email seemingly from her, and Sydney getting mysteriously punches in the house, seemingly from Cecelia.
But, Cecelia is convinced, and begins investigating, eventually finding a bunch of clues in James’ attic, seemingly confirming that Adrian is in the house, and tormenting her. And, after doing some poking around she ends up locating Adrian by splashing paint on him, revealing an invisible form. The two have a brutal fight, but the Invisible Man flees from the house before she can stop him. So, Cecelia heads out to Adrian’s old mansion, and sure enough finds a suit in his laboratory which uses cameras to create invisibility. She takes the suit and stashes it inside of the mansion, before being attacked by the Invisible Man again. She escapes, and calls her sister to try and get help. But, when she meets her sister and starts telling her all of her insane-sounding theories, the Invisible Man kills Cecelia’s sister, making it seem like she’d done it. Cecelia is arrested, and presumed to have had a psychotic break. But, while in the hospital a blood test is done, and it’s found that Cecelia is pregnant. At which point Tom shows back up and lets Cecelia know that Adrian is indeed alive, and has sent him to make a deal, getting her out of the murder charge if she promises to come back to him with the child. She refuses, and ends up concocting a different plan, stealing one of Tom’s pens and attempting suicide with it to draw out the Invisible Man and his wrath. She fights with the Invisible Man, but he escapes after killing several guards at the hospital. Cecelia escapes as well though, and races back to James’ house. The Invisible Man attempts to kill James and Sydney, but Cecelia is able to show up in time and shoot him, revealing him to have been Tom. At which point we’re told that Adrian is indeed alive, but he’s been kidnapped by Tom, who orchestrated the whole thing. But, Cecelia doesn’t believe it, and with James’ help she confronts Adrian, getting him to finally slyly admit that he was behind it all. At which point she excuses herself, retrieves the other invisibility suit, and uses it to kill Adrian as if it was a suicide.
After the fascinating failure of the Dark Universe, I really wasn’t sure what to expect from Universal’s next attempt to get water from this particular stone. But, when the trailers came out, the movie looked surprisingly good, even though the trailer certainly seemed to be giving away a whole lot of the movie. So, I went in with as open a mind as possible, and found myself absolutely floored. First of all, the trailer actually didn’t spoil nearly as much as it seemed like it did, and secondly, I’m frankly stunned at what a crazy choice this movie was. It’s scary while not relying entirely on lazy jump-scares or gore, it’s phenomenally well-acted, and it manages to take a classic story and update it in a way that almost never actually gets pulled off by remakes. I love the original Universal Invisible Man, considering it one of my favorite of the classic Monster movies, and this movie manages to do something completely different, while being just as successful. It finds a very different world to play around it, updating the story, the fear, and the mechanics of the film while still playing into the base terror of a lunatic gaining the ability to become invisible, all coming together to create one of the most successful horror movies I’ve seen in years.
The original Universal film, which I’ve actually already talked about, ultimately seems to be a story about anonymity, and how our behavior can radically change to the worse when freed from immediate consequences for our actions. Which, is something that is still incredibly prescient, if not more so, and seemed like a pretty logical place to take a new Invisible Man movie. But, in a frankly genius move, this movie doesn’t fall into the easiest path, and instead turns this crazy horror movie about a Monster into an allegory for abusive relationships, and the way that abuse can thoroughly damage a person’s life. Cecelia is a character who is essentially experiencing a realized version of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, jumping at every little thing, and unable to convince everyone around her that what’s happening is real. But, in her case, she literally has an invisible abuser following her around and tormenting her. The movie never plays around by suggesting that maybe it’s all in Cecelia’s head, we never have to doubt her. We see the abuse and the torment, and we get to see how this feeling leads her to seem insane, thinking she’s the only one in the world who is actually seeing the truth. And, it’s horrifying. She feels like she’s being gaslit by an incredibly adept abuser, and is forced to bring the truth to light, getting her own form of revenge, possibly at the expense of her own soul and mind. It’s a fascinating choice to make, and a great way to take the central premise and horror of the Invisible Man and bring it to a fresh, and terrifying light.
The Invisible Man was written and directed by Leigh Whannell and released by Universal Pictures, 2020.
Categories: Reel Talk