Summer of Horror: The Invisible Man (2020) Gaslighting, the movie

Elizabeth Moss lies awake in an ultra-modern bed, in an ultra-modern house, next to the silhouette of a sleeping man, ocean waves crashing just outside the nearby picture window. It’s about 3 in the morning. She gingerly tiptoes out of bed taking care not to wake the man, makes her way to a hidden ready bag, gets dressed, and sneaks out of the house. On the way, she accidentally trips a car alarm and breaks into a full sprint, vaulting over the security gate, and flees through the woods to the nearest road, where she’s picked up by her sister just in time to escape the same sleeping man in violent pursuit. This is the cold open of 2020’s The Invisible Man.

What a bullet we must have dodged, getting this Invisible Man versus the planned Universal Monsters “Dark Universe” franchise that would have given us Johnny Depp as the titular character, and likely would have been just another action-heavy CGI fest like their Mummy was a few years back. This is the first take on this story I’ve seen that truly understands the horror of being stalked by someone who literally can’t be seen.

In this case, it’s in the form of a controlling, manipulative boyfriend with the added powers of extreme wealth. The cool thing about the way this story unfolds is that we never clearly see Adrian in those opening scenes, nor are we able to confirm that he has turned himself invisible and gone to torment his erstwhile girlfriend. We know that his work was in the field of “optics”, and that he allegedly died by suicide shortly after the “breakup”, but is it all part of a dastardly master plan or is Cecilia just having paranoia or PTSD? All other Invisible Man adaptations have unambiguously shown the moment and method of turning invisible right off the bat, which, when you think about it, kind of waters down the unknowable terror of the thing.

Director Leigh Whannell is now officially “on the map” as a horror director to watch. He mines the maximum amount of suspense out of every moment that Cecilia is alone. When the camera drifts over to a seemingly empty part of a room, the noose tightens a little.

Elizabeth Moss is in danger of being typecast as someone tormented by powerful men, but she knows this territory well and is capable of playing both vulnerable and resilient with equal convincingness. To speak of the rest of the cast would give too much of the plot away. This is Moss’s movie.

With the “Dark Universe” plans thankfully scrapped, I only hope future Universal Monsters adaptations are as classy and well constructed as this. Did I mention how scary it is? It’s scary as hell.

One comment

  1. I think the Dark Universe was clearly meant to compete with Marvel and DC’s superhero blockbusters. Universal seemed to want to draw both horror fans and action audiences – not an easy combination to pull off. It’s not surprising that their direction failed, but it is surprising that it only took them one film (Tom Cruise’s The Mummy) to actually figure that out. I was sure we were in for one or two more attempts and sort of curious how they would have done. The Invisible Man is a great shift and really promising for the future though: using those classic monsters for character driven horror on a smaller scale with more personal stakes.

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