The Universal Monsters have been trying to get their well-worn boots off the ground in Hollywood for some time now, and it’s been well published that 2020’s The Invisible Man starring Elisabeth Moss is the new take on the H.G. Wells classic about a scientist named Griffin who has successfully discovered the ability to turn invisible but fails in his attempt to reverse it.
*TW: Abuse. As a man of random and irresponsible violence, Griffin became an iconic character in cult horror fiction. Remade in 1933 by Universal the old school film stars Claude Rains and was described as a “nearly perfect translation of the spirit of the tale in which it is based’, which is some pretty damn big shoe that the 2020 reboot were trying to fill.
And while The Invisible Man does fill the shoe, they are more like expensive high heels rather than the original scuffed wing tips. The Invisible Man has been dubbed as a scary update that trades the science fiction shivers for #MeToo horror, giving an entirely fresh take on an 123 year old story. And while it does do exactly this, the trade off has resulted not in an epic horror movie of Universal Monsters proportions, but actually a drama/thriller in the vein of The Girl on the Train, A Simple Favour, and Gone Girl.
Elisabeth Moss plays Celia, a survivor of an abusive and extremely rich and powerful man whose presence remains unseen but chillingly felt throughout the film. Elisabeth’s acting as the nervy yet determined survivor of such brutal emotional abuse is truly felt in every scene as she begins to suspect that the tales of her ex’s suicide is an elaborate hoax and starts to feel that she is being monitored and watched. Watching the after effects of the abuse is indeed horrific, and reaches the height of psychological pain that can be felt in chilling rape scenes from I Spit On Your Grave and The Hills Have Eyes, but take the invisible man science-fiction part out of it and it becomes a dramatic tale of survival. In fact, taking the invisible man science-fiction part out of it would actually serve the film better.
Obviously it wouldn’t be a horror movie in that case, and it certainly wouldn’t be a reboot of H.G. Wells Invisible Man, but it would actually end up being a more precise, more mysterious, and yet more realistic if it did. The Invisible Man should have focused on bringing to light the dark and haunting horrors that embed themselves deep into the mind of abuse survivors, and while Elisabeth Moss carried this movie to those heights it definitely could have been done to create the same mysterious air that comes from watching high-anxiety thrillers like The Girl on the Train. The audience could have been left questioning if there really was an invisible man terrorising Cecilia or if it is all in her mind as a result from the abuse she suffered.
I love the Universal Monsters classic and The Invisible Man as a Universal Monster reboot could be taken in a more traditional story. By separating the two you could end up with two amazing stories and not just one. And while the 2020 version was definitely an amazing piece of storytelling and cinematography I personally think that the invisible monster needed to translate to a feeling and not an actual monster – at least, not one that is actually invisible. The abusive ex husband is monster enough and I think Celia being haunted by her past is the real story that needed to be told here.
I give The Invisible Man 2 stars