When Leigh Whannell was writing his reimagining of The Invisible Man, he couldn’t possibly foresee the confluence of events that would surround its release. Universal had originally planned for the film to be part of Dark Universe, their interconnected reboot of their classic monster movies. (In another ironic twist, they cast Johnny Depp, who’s making more headlines these days for his relationship than his career, to star in the original reboot.) However, once plans for Dark Universe fell apart, Blumhouse took over the property and Whannell wrote a new script. And now the movie is here, arriving the same week as Harvey Weinstein’s conviction and the release of the video for Taylor Swift’s “The Man.” If you have no idea what that has to do with The Invisible Man, then you’d better read this review.
The Invisible Man: Then and Now
image via Universal Pictures
For those of you who never saw the original 1933 film or read the H.G. Wells book, here’s a very brief spoiler-free summary. Claude Rains stars as Dr. Jack Griffin, a chemist who’s figured out how to become invisible. Shockingly, he does not use his new powers for good. Instead, I believe the phrase “reign of terror” is most appropriate to describe what happens next. It’s similar in theme but not identical in plot to the 2000 reimagining of the story, the Kevin Bacon-starrer Hollow Man.
And neither story has much to do with this story, 2020’s The Invisible Man. Well, except for the part where there’s an invisible man. That’s kind of crucial. However, although he has the marquee role, the titular man isn’t the focus of this movie. Instead, his wife Cecelia (Elisabeth Moss) is. We begin the movie with her in media res, in the midst of her nail-biting escape from their toxic relationship. And if you’ve seen the trailer, then you know what follows. The husband, optics guru Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), dies, but he apparently doesn’t go away. Cecelia is convinced that he’s still after her. She’s seen the evidence for herself, but it’s hard to get others to believe her.
Putting the Film into Context
This, of course, is a familiar tale . Until October 2017, for instance, few acknowledged out loud what many knew to be true: Harvey Weinstein was a predator who used his influence to abuse women and then cow them into silence. One of his apparent chief tactics for both was gaslighting. He’d allegedly tell aspiring young actresses, for example, that sleeping with him was just how it was done. Hell, the big names had done it–as Charlize Theron told The New York Times, “One of his lines was that Renée and I slept with him to get jobs.”
When the Times and The New Yorker broke their respective stories on Weinstein in 2017, they started a domino effect that reinvigorated Tarana Burke’s 2006 Me Too movement. Suddenly, women and men–and in some egregious cases, children–were coming forward, finally empowered enough to expose the predators in their own lives. Some of them had tried before, of course, but, in many cases, no one believed them. Or they were gaslit into accepting it. A familiar tale.
How This Fits into the Movie
image via Universal Pictures
And it’s one that you can see happening to Cecilia, even from the beginning. When she has her sister, Emily (Harriet Dyer), pick her up in the middle of the night, Emily questions it. You would think what’s going on would be obvious, but sometimes even the people closest to us rationalize what’s happening to us. Sometimes we even do it to ourselves.
The sad fact is, once Adrian’s abuse becomes known, it’s easy then to blame it for what’s happening. It’s easy to chalk up Cecelia’s behavior, which comes off as unstable and possibly violent, to what (she says) happened to her. You can see her sister and especially her friend James (Aldis Hodge) try to take it all in as an after-effect of her trauma. After all, once she escapes, she’s still so haunted by Adrian that she can barely step outside James’s house. So, it isn’t difficult to believe that she’s just seeing things or acting out. This is a clever move on the film’s part, because it shows how it easy it is for abuse survivors to be revictimized. As Taylor Swift sings in “The Man,” her latest single, “When everyone believes ya–what’s that like?”
The Invisible Man: Review
I mention Taylor not only because I keep her music on repeat, but also because the themes of “The Man” and its video are relevant to this film. The song imagines how the world would treat Taylor, her life, and her accomplishments if she were a man. (Answer: Probably a lot more positively!) The video echoes that sentiment, as we follow “Tyler Swift” through his carefree existence. As a parent, for example, he’s effusively praised for doing the bare minimum. His indiscretions as a partner and as an businessperson, on the other hand, are overlooked. Put simply, he’s allowed to be a jerk at work and at home.
And isn’t this true of Adrian, the Invisible Man? Because of his status, he’s also allowed to act a certain way and get away with almost everything. His relationship with Cecelia and the aftermath is just another symptom of his privilege. That’s because he’s not going after her because of some great love. He goes after her because she dared to defy him.
But to her credit, Cecelia’s not done with defying him. And as Cecelia, Elisabeth Moss gives an electrifying performance. It’s no secret that she’s a more-than-capable performer, but it really takes someone special to react convincingly to someone who’s not there. She makes Cecelia’s fear believable and in this, she’s aided by Whannell, who also directed the film. As the camera pans around seemingly empty spaces, we feel her dread. And when it comes to the emotion she displays at the end of the film, all I can say is: Me, too.
The Invisible Man isn’t note-perfect, but after months of disappointments, it seems that horror’s not dead, after all.
What are your thoughts on The Invisible Man? And which Universal monster should they reboot next? Let us know by commenting below or telling us on social media. Anything other than making yourself invisible and showing up in our homes.
featured image via Universal Pictures
Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. She now splits her time between the Appalachian wilds (of Alabama) and the considerably more refined streets of New York City. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf.