The Invisible Man new on Crave

The Invisible Man (new on Crave)

The Invisible Man single-handedly salvages the Dark Universe

An excellent performance from Elisabeth Moss and a strong Paul Verhoeven influence elevate this umpteenth take on the classic character.

As The Invisible Man opens, Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) is on the move. In the dead of night, she carries out her rehearsed plan of action: escaping from the clutches of her abusive boyfriend, tech genius Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Leaving his camera-filled mansion with the help of her sister (Harriet Dyer), she retreats to the San Francisco suburbs. When Cecilia later learns of her boyfriend’s suicide, it feels like she can breathe easier — despite the fact she’s still dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder from her relationship.

Even as her life is slowly getting back on track, Cecilia can feel a strange presence in her new home. It first manifests itself through spooky pranks that soon become dangerous and threatens the new support system around her, comprising Detective James Lanier (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). While Cecilia questions her sanity, it turns out she’s unfortunately right: an invisible stalker has started wreaking havoc, seeking to cut her off from the new life she’s made for herself. But no one believes her and she’ll have to rely on herself to escape yet another prison.

While previous Invisible Man adaptations deal with a man named Griffin slowly going mad from his new light-refracting powers, this new version is striking and successful in its simplicity. It’s about the person we can actually see at all times: the victim. After the thoroughly fun, Robocop-inspired Upgrade in 2018, Leigh Whannell (who also has a screenwriting credit on the original SAW movie) dips into the Verhoeven well again by tackling an invisible man story. While he doesn’t ape the second greatest Dutch artist since Van Gogh (who took on the mythos with his much-maligned 2000 effort Hollow Man), he continues to sample the palettes of other 1980s techno-sci-fi thrillers to paint a modern image of a woman in crisis who has only one person in her corner: herself.

A vision of pluck and gumption since her breakout role in Mad Men, Elisabeth Moss has since excelled at playing women that are under siege or slowly breaking down. The Invisible Man becomes a showcase for her Cecilia, a woman of resolve and frayed vulnerability. Each expertly-timed flicker of her eyes communicates a woman wrestling for the control of her life, trying to keep a lid on emotions she knows are true, even as the world and her closest friends refuse to believe her.

While Upgrade borrowed from Robocop, The Invisible Man samples from the first two Terminator movies. The poorly received but competently made Terminator Dark Fate showed us what we should’ve known all along: it’s Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor that made those movies work, not the T-800. The Invisible Man is a variation on that idea: Moss’s Cecilia Kass is a new Sarah Connor, who has to face something far worse than James Cameron’s atomic techno-fears made from metallic flesh but instead the invisible hold that abuse and survival takes on a person.

As opposed to the creation of a frightening metallic skeleton, there’s something slightly silly about presenting invisibility on film. We’re all aware of how cheap and comical it might look to have a butcher’s knife suddenly floating in the air, but an unseen assailant destroying your relationships and indulging in industrial-grade gaslighting becomes chilling. Every frame of negative space becomes a place where the invisible man could be “hiding,” and every camera pan suggests he might be right behind her, ready to strike or simply breathe on her.

The script never short-changes the emotional reality of Cecilia’s predicament but still manages to be thrilling and even offers exciting invisible-combat action sequences. Even though we’re rooting for the heroine to escape, it’s still fun to see hapless security guards getting beaten up by an unseen force. During its second hour, the tight thriller qualities of the script loosen up, but allow the story to go into an unexpected direction that bolsters its main character.

It’s pretty likely most people do not remember the Dark Universe. For a small moment in time, Universal was getting into the cinematic universe business, planning to create spin-offs out of Tom Cruise’s 2017 Mummy movie! There was even a cast picture promising us a Javier Bardem Frankenstein’s monster! No one is truly bothered that it never existed, but it’s especially good since it allowed this version of The Invisible Man to exist. Whannell’s careful and modern rebuilding of the HG Wells character shines through well-executed simplicity. As horror reboots go, The Invisible Man is a must-see. ■

The Invisible Man opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Feb. 28. Watch the trailer below.

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