Leigh Whannell’s undeniably stylish interpretation of The Invisible Man (1933) never finds balance between scares and dramatic depth. Despite a few engaging moments, it’s nothing more than a run-of-the-mill ghost story with little of a twist.
In 1933 James Whale directed The Invisible Man, which loosely inspired Leigh Whannell’s remake. The original followed a scientist whose blood’s been infected with strange substance that turned him invisible. Daringly played by Claude Rains, the protagonist became the archetype of a “mad scientist” type of antagonist – merciless, and spraying havoc all around.
To gain independence from Whale’s classic Leigh Whannell transposed that perspective. He too looks at the doubtful blessing of invisibility but from the victim’s eyes. The decision’s not entirely a grist for the mill though, in spite of quite a riveting beginning Whannell serves for starters.
The Invisible Man (2020) studies the victim’s perspective
Whannell opens The Invisible Man (2020) on Cecily (Elisabeth Moss) who wakes up in the middle of a night, sneakily tip-toeing out of bed to escape from her abusive boyfriend Adrian. We learn that this Elon Musk-type engineer – played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen – hides dark secrets, and when things go irreversibly south that night, days later Cecily learns about Adrian’s suicidal death.
After Cecily’s mind torture comes to an end, the story dilutes into a cross between Paranormal Activity and psychological drama. In spite of his recent death, the sadistic boyfriend still torments Cecily. Whannell stages the mostly hide and a bit of seek game as the invisible man teases by burning scrambled eggs on one sunny morning. Such seemingly harmless deeds obviously need to escalate, but as dreadful as that sounds, that’s mostly just chasing shadows. In an attempt to discombobulate the audience, Whannell makes things transparent as the man in the title – the direction in which the story is going feels painfully obvious.
Elisabeth Moss struggles with her leading role
A vast part of the story belongs to Cecily convincing others about her boyfriend’s staged death. Unsurprisingly, other people’s denial stands strong, and the me-against-the-world vibe poses quite a challenge for Elisabeth Moss. The actress embraces her character’s paranoid nature confidently, however Whannell’s indecisive sketch of Cecily causes her troubles.
Here’s an example – Cecily devises the mastermind plan of escape from Adrian’s tech-reinforced mansion, alas still remains the powerless victim. Consistency turns characters relatable and true, meanwhile the lack of it – spineless. In the case of Moss, she never makes Cecily a compelling lead, largely because Whannell never questions the reality of Adrian’s post mortem existence. If we had to wander, along with Cecily, whether the invisible haunt is real, this entire ordeal would gain substance.
The Invisible Man (2020) isn’t scary either
As to the extent of horror provided by The Invisible Man (2020), Whannell strikes me as rather restrained. That is surprising to observe given how much of a free-ride his previous film Upgrade (2018) was. Director’s flamboyant bravado is translated into stylish but less memorable maturity in The Invisible Man (2020), where the camera probes dark corners and patiently awaits scary details to emerge. Lamentably, those arrive scarcely, and way too softly to make any horror fan care.
Concluding the entire effort of Leigh Whannell and the rest of the crew, The Invisible Man (2020) steered away from directly remaking James Whale’s classic. But the new, modernized version lacks the genuine dread that Claude Rains’ role as a maniacal scientist brought almost a century ago. As a speechless haunt, the invisible man is neither scary nor wicked or iconic. He is, to put it bluntly, invisible but not in an exciting manner.
The Invisible Man (2020)
Director: Leigh Whannell
Writer: Leigh Whannell
Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Oliver Jackson-Cohen
Cinematographer: Stefan Duscio
Music: Benjamin Wallfisch