An invisible man. Definitely less scary than the one featured in the movie. Image courtesy of Chaotic Good01 via flickr.

The Invisible Man: Traditional paranoia for a modern audience

Every major studio has attempted to form a cinematic universe at one point or another, with most bearing little to no fruit in comparison to profits corporate studio heads expect when following in the footsteps of Disney’s Marvel franchise. Sony Pictures has attempted an Amazing Spider-Man universe, Warner Bros. has attempted a superhero universe following DC characters, and even Universal Pictures has given several attempts: currently with Fast & Furious, and formerly the monstrous Dark Universe (twice). Both failures of the Dark Universe have proven that the power of an intellectual property matters just as much as how the movie adapting said property markets its appeal. Unsurprisingly, no one rushed to the theater to see Dracula Untold or The Mummy despite how hard Universal Pictures tried to turn their classic monsters into action icons. Ignoring these previous attempts at reboots, writer/director Leigh Whanell and Blumhouse Productions have finally utilized one of the classic Universal monsters for their original purpose: a chillingly tense and intimately reflective horror film, The Invisible Man.

H.G. Wells, author of the original 1897 novel the film is based on, stands as a prestigious, if not the most prestigious, father of science fiction as a literary genre. Providing inspiration for countless artistic expressions, Wells’ body of work has extended far beyond its original reach as nothing more than imaginative novels for the British population of the 19th century fortunate enough to be literate. Both great and terrible forays into science-fiction films have occurred since the invention of the medium thanks to figures like Wells, but, in recent years, the only exceptional ventures have focused on existential themes such as identity, universal scale, and the exponential growth of technology (Under the Skin, Arrival, and Black Mirror express these sentiments, respectively). With The Invisible Man, Whannell’s screenplay takes a relatively moderate approach to science-fiction concepts, leading to a much more relatable story that the audience will latch onto much more easily than the average descent into madness that happens to take place in outer space or the not-so-distant future. This return to pre-lovecraftian fears in the form of paranoia resulting from trauma makes for scares that finally remind the audience of how dangerous obsession and manipulation may be in an interpersonal conflict. Although the story of the
film follows almost nothing of the original novel, the major themes still carry over strongly; the modern setting has even allowed for an evolution of said themes in an age where domestic abuse and victim overreach have become more discussed topics in the struggle for gender equality on both the masculine and feminine ends of the spectrum.

Continuing her trend of independent female characters defiant against control by infrastructure, Elisabeth Moss delivers a wonderfully compelling performance as the lead character, Cecilia. Rather than only retaining the core characteristics of exhaustion and rigidity seen in her other popular, feminist characters, Peggy from Mad Men and Offred from The Handmaid’s Tale, Moss uses the conflict of relationship abuse to present a more energetic side to her acting range. Switching between vehement claims of the danger her ex-boyfriend poses and more delicate moments of fear and struggle to find the titular villain, Moss finds no trouble in consistently developing the balanced strengths and weaknesses of her character in realistic ways. Such vulnerability and determination have not mixed as well by example, since many attempts at strong female characters in modern studio films have followed the trend of rejecting all emotion or flaws
in favor of lifeless smolders and brute strength. In comparison, most of the other performances of the film are largely suitable, except for Michael Dorman, who plays financial lawyer Tom Griffin with a particular sleaze only lawyers may hold. Then again, the performances of the side character may not be the problem, but rath er specific elements of the script themselves.

At its core, The Invisible Man’s screenplay holds all of the necessary story beats and thematic details to serve as the basis for an engaging and compelling movie; components such as clunky dialogue, inconsistent pacing, and underdeveloped characters do not help as much. Even after just witing the theater, several friends and I could not help but wish one of the scenes of the first act did not feel so much like a sitcom’s introduction to the eventual conflict rather than a serious horror film’s characterization of the main group in order to produce audience investment for when the real danger begins. Without spoiling much of the scene, the segment simply follows a character interaction between protagonist Cecilia and two of her supportive friends. Cecilia is using the interaction to surprise them as gratitude for their support in her recovery period after an abusive relationship, but none, repeat, none of the dialogue, direction, or moments in the scene feel genuine. When watching it, the audience will not help but wonder whether or not the scene was forced into the plot in order to introduce moments of levity in the first act, but, wow, is it unnatural. One could argue against the analysis of issues in just one scene, but many plot points in The Invisible Man hold the same issues. Minor conflict arising from the Invisible Man’s manipulation of Cecilia’s life often feel rushed or lacking in logical progression, resulting in more scenes with the simplest of moments that bog down the flow of the story. While characters do need to be involved in the overall story and act in order to build the horror hiding beneath objective sight, The Invisible Man certainly lacks the balance of elements to effectively execute these moments. By the end of the film, one will have thoroughly enjoyed themselves and their time with The Invisible Man if only for the effective and minimalist moments of horror, Elisabeth Moss’ terrifically compelling performance, and the relevant themes about abuse survival woven throughout the story. Well, one will enjoy that, as well as a formidably ambiguous ending that will have the viewer reflecting
on the film’s real meaning on the car ride home.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars.

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