We finally get a good reboot of a Universal horror monster and that should be celebrated.
Cecilia “Cee” Kass (Elisabeth “Dear God I’m Talented” Moss) is in an abusive relationship with optics engineer Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and finally manages to leave him by sneaking out of his compound with the help of her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer). She hides out afterwards with her cop friend James (Aldis “Straight Outta” Hodge) and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). She soon learns that Adrian has committed suicide. Adrian’s brother Tom (Michael Dorman) informs her that Adrian has left her $5 million dollars which is hers as long as she is found to be of sound mind and commits no crimes. Soon, however, she finds a number of strange things happening around her. She starts to believe that Adrian had figured out how to make himself invisible and is now torturing her for leaving him.
Does everyone remember when Universal had planned their “Dark Universe” series and they announced that Johnny Depp was cast as the Invisible Man? Yeah, me neither, but it did happen and thanks to the colossal screw-up that was The Mummy with Tom Cruise, that idea died harder than the sequel to that one Bruce Willis movie… The Whole Ten Yards. Apparently they decided to try again using the Blumhouse method of cheap production and focusing on interesting storytelling over special effects. Surprisingly, it worked!
In some ways this is one of the more faithful adaptations of the source material. H.G. Wells’s original story of The Invisible Man depicted a greedy, ambitious, and cruel scientific student who figures out the secret of invisibility solely for money and then eventually keeps escalating his bad acts until he decides to go on a “reign of terror.” In most of the prior adaptations, including the 1933 The Invisible Man with Claude Rains and the various sequels, the character is generally depicted as benign or sympathetic until the invisibility drives them insane (usually the serum itself causes madness). In this, Adrian Griffin (the same last name as the character from the original novel) is already a monster before he supposedly becomes invisible. He was already controlling and gaslighting Cee when he was just a rich jerk, and that’s actually thematically appropriate for this film.
One of the inspirations for the original The Invisible Man was the story from Plato’s Republic called “The Ring of Gyges.” In the story, a man finds a ring that makes him invisible (yeah, Tolkien didn’t come up with that) and slowly commits more and more atrocious acts because he realizes he cannot be held accountable. In this film, it’s implied that Adrian’s cruelty is partially derived from his good looks, wealth, and privilege. It’s what allowed him to keep Cee in the abusive relationship to begin with, including having multiple people doubt Cee’s assertions just because Adrian seems so amazing. Eventually, when he gains the ability to become invisible, that just enables him to finally enact the last few acts of cruelty that he hadn’t been able to do so far. Essentially, he shows that it was only the small amount of accountability that he had as a wealthy person that had been holding him back.
The story is also updated a bit by adding a significant aspect of gaslighting and emotionally abusing a significant other. The entire premise of the film is based around Adrian trying to find a way to control Cee after she finally left him, which gives the horror elements a more sinister and grounded aspect. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I automatically give bonus points to films that use horror as a way to address real-life issues.
Elisabeth Moss’s performance carries most of the film and is even more impressive when you realize that she’s typically acting against nothing. She really conveys an abused woman who is unable to trust her reality because she’s been so manipulated by Adrian. Also, unlike most protagonists who refuse to believe what’s happening is real, she almost immediately guesses that Adrian has gone invisible, something that everyone else doubts (the way they doubted her abuse).
The cinematography is the other key to this film. The camera often drifts to empty corners and open doors where nothing appears to be happening, which sets the tone of the film so effectively. Similarly, the sound editing and soundtrack are both excellent at giving the feeling of having another presence in the room and of that presence being malicious. Also, I appreciate that they updated how he became invisible to make it more scientifically accurate.
Overall, solid movie. Sad that the Covid-19 may have hurt people seeing it, but if you can afford it, this is actually a movie worth renting on demand. If not… wait a few months for Redbox.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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