The Invisible Man, an 1897 novel by sci-fi titan H.G. Wells, was an out-of-the-box choice for a horror movie adaptation. The 2020 movie of the same name is a far cry from the book; it’s a cross between an Elisabeth Moss vehicle and psychological horror movie. Blumhouse, the studio behind The Purge series and Get Out, used recognizable, existing IP to sell a movie concept. It’s become a familiar formula for Hollywood with Peter Berg’s poorly received Battleship (2012) coming nearly a decade ago and a Margot Robbie-led Barbie movie on the horizon.
The Invisible Man was initially developed as the first leg of Universal’s resurrected MMCU (Monster Movie Cinematic Universe). (Seriously.) When the 2017 reboot of The Mummy failed (it starred Tom Cruise, if that rings a bell), the MMCU was prematurely scrapped. Instead, writer-director Leigh Whannell was brought in to shepherd a stand-alone Invisible Man movie. Whannell wrote the four (!) Insidious movies and wrote and directed Upgrade, an underrated 2018 action movie. He and Moss were probably overqualified for their roles in The Invisible Man, but they elevate an otherwise forgettable experience.
Cecilia (Moss) flees her rich, abusive boyfriend’s compound (mansion is far too generous a word for its long, barren corridors) after drugging him. Cecilia’s sister, Emily (Harriet Dyer), helps her complete the escape as her getaway driver. Days later, Adrian (Cecilia’s abusive ex-boyfriend, played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is reported dead by suicide. Adrian established a multi-million dollar trust for Cecilia, which he executes through Tom (Michael Dorman), an attorney and his grieving brother. While she recovers from the trauma, Cecilia moves in with her friend, James (Aldis Hodge), and his daughter, Sydney (Storm Reid). Almost immediately, the unexplainable begins. Cecilia must prove her sanity by uncovering her stalker.
The Invisible Man flips the deeply paranoid woman trope on its head. Adrian, a leader in the field of optics, uses his technological prowess to harass and torment his former lover. Cecilia can see her invisible stalker’s breath in the cool, winter air. He rips the blanket off of her bed as she sleeps. He engages in full-scale psychological torture. The audience is put in the uncomfortable position of a woman whose pleas are ignored by the police, her friends, and her family.
Although the science-fiction elements require a healthy suspension of disbelief, they provide perspective on what it means to have a controlling spouse. The horror takes a page from Paranormal Activity, but an obsessive man is a believable oppressor. Ghosts are not. Adrian’s nefarious superpower grants him the ability to follow an abusive playbook that’s all too familiar to far too many abused spouses. Cecilia is driven to isolation and the edges of her own sanity by his actions.
Whannel is currently in negotiations to direct a Ryan Gosling-led Wolfman reboot. (Seriously.) Whannel is also developing a sequel to The Invisible Man, and Elizabeth Banks is primed to star and direct an Invisible Woman spinoff. Although Whannel, Moss, and Blumhouse were able to spin a 19th century Wells novel into a story about harmful relationships, I will approach future installations with skepticism.