Universal’s The Invisible Man succeeds by being a good horror movie with an innovative story and strong characters.
BY: Harry Wang
Universal’s remake of The Invisible Man (2020) marks a return to form for monster horror, turning an old story into a smart and intense modern thriller. In this modern interpretation of a classic, Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) confronts abusive boyfriend Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who has figured out a way to be invisible.
The Invisible Man, directed by long-time James Wan collaborator Leigh Whannell, is the antithesis of a blockbuster. With a budget of only 7 million dollars, The Invisible Man succeeds where Dracula and The Mummy failed — redirecting the attention from special effects and universe-building (does anyone still remember the Dark Universe) to what makes horror movies so entertaining in the first place: an engaging story with a terrifying antagonist. The Invisible Man takes bright spots from the original 1933 film and innovatively places them into a modern context.
Unlike the original, 2020’s The Invisible Man shifts its focus from the antagonist to his victim, making a subtle commentary on the effects of domestic abuse. Moss’s performance as Kass is outstanding, unforgettable, and everything a horror protagonist should be. Moss utilizes her rich facial expressions to add depth and complexity to the character, making her monodramatic “interactions” with Griffin all the more convincing. Meanwhile, the tenacity and intelligence Kass demonstrates throughout the film makes the story smart and entertaining.
Rather than scary, The Invisible Man is anxiety-inducing. For most of its screen time, the film’s audience does not see its titular villain, which leaves the audience wondering where he is. Whannell and cinematographer Stefan Duscio enhance this uncertainty through still shots that, while displaying nothing on screen, leaves the audience on the edge of their seats. This is further highlighted by Benjamin Wallfisch’s original score that switches back and forth between near-silence and ferocity.
However, The Invisible Man is not perfect. While some may appreciate the slowness it takes to build up the tension, I felt that the film’s drawn-out expositions in the first few acts are somewhat uneven compared to the final acts’ abundance of quick revelations and twists. Although these revelations make perfect sense given the careful set-ups in the first few acts, I wish that the film could have done more to even out the pacing.
Nevertheless, with a smart story that is enhanced by strong cinematography and an outstanding performance by Moss, The Invisible Man is a win. It proves again that with the right directions and decisions, franchise remakes can be inventive reimaginings of classics that attracts both nostalgic and new audiences.