When Cecilia’s abusive ex takes his own life and leaves her his fortune, she suspects his death was a hoax. As a series of coincidences turn lethal, Cecilia works to prove that she is being hunted by someone nobody can see.
Oh Dark Universe, we hardly knew ye.
After the unparalleled success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in 2008 with Iron Man, nearly every film studio was looking to get into the “Cinematic Universe” business, including Warner Bros. with their DC Extended Universe and MonsterVerse (Godzilla and King Kong) and Disney with Star Wars “Stories”.
Universal had the Dark Universe.
Although every production company could be accused of riding on the success of the comic book studio, Universal is the only one with a legitimate claim as their classic “Monsters Universe” is the first shared universe in the entire film industry. From 1931 to 1954, the studio released movies that brought together monsters such as Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster (and Bride), The Mummy, The Wolf Man and The Invisible Man.
Plans to include various of these monstrous creations under one franchise goes back all the way to 2004 with (the underrated silly guilty pleasure) Van Helsing. However, it proved to be slightly unsuccessful in the eyes of the studio and sequels were cancelled. 10 years later, a second attempt was made when (the more than decent) Dracula Untold was released, which was also set to be the beginning of a large group of interconnected films that would bring together all of Universal Studio’s monsters for big budget events. That one also under performed, hence the drawing board was pulled out once again.
Positive that the third time would be the charm, it was announced in 2015 that Tom Cruise would head a reboot for The Mummy, the first film in what would be dubbed The Dark Universe, a franchise where their ultimate goal was to have their catalogue of monsters come together in an Avengers-style team to rival the MCU.
The third time was not the charm.
Despite a clearly desperate attempt to ignite interest, where they announced, assembled and released a photo (through the magic of Photoshop) showing off their massive star power for the other reboots with Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, Javier Bardem as Frankenstein – or its monster -, Angelina Jolie as the Bride of Frankenstein (not pictured) and Johnny Depp as The Invisible Man, The Mummy opened to an extremely low critical rating of 16% on Rotten Tomatoes, had a box office gross of $410 million and an estimated loss for the studio of around $95 million. The Dark Universe crashed and burned after just one try.
But just like the mythical characters it brings to life who never seem to stay dead for long, Universal Studios revealed in 2019 that reboots for beloved classic monsters were being planned once more, yet this time would focus on individual story telling rather than shared universes. Time and (money) will tell if that stays true for long.
Joining the fray this time was successful horror producer Jason Blum and his company Blumhouse Productions (Paranormal Activity, The Purge, Get Out) who then convinced Australian filmmaker Leigh Whanell (co-creator of Saw and director of the massively underappreciated and under seen Upgrade) to write and direct a new iteration of H.G. Wells novel about a scientist who turns invisible.
By this point, Depp was already out and Elisabeth Moss was in as the lead, playing a woman tormented by her abusive ex, a scientist who has found a way to become – The Invisible Man.
One of the most underrated aspects of horror is the opportunity to provide social commentary through storytelling of a fantastical nature. Master filmmakers like John Carpenter, George Romero and Wes Craven all used this tool to bring real social issues such as capitalism, racism and class warfare to light through brainwashing aliens, zombies and monsters who live in basements respectively, while still providing audiences with ghoulish thrills.
In this era of #Metoo, topics of domestic abuse, toxic relationships, gas lighting and victim blaming have become ripe to be explored in this genre more so than in any other and The Invisible Man intelligently takes advantage of this by providing a timely tale that is all the more terrifying because of how believable the situations our female protagonist lives through. And that’s before even getting into invisible men.
Elisabeth Moss is vital to the success of this film, as a majority of the emotional weight and screen time falls on her considerably talented shoulders, and she delivers with a delightful “Am I losing my mind?” performance that is full of sympathy and pain.
It’s also harrowing, powerful, heartbreaking and empowering and Moss not only makes quality acting look easy, she could very well enter the pantheon of memorable female heroines, accompanying the likes of Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor.
Modern (Invisible) Times
It’s difficult to explain how well it works without getting into spoilers, but The Invisible Man is a fantastic example on how to revitalize and refresh what could have very easily been tired cliches and a tale told too many times that also manages to respect the original legacies left by H.G. Wells novel and the iconic adaptation from 1933.
Aspiring filmmakers and writers should take notes on this update not only for the intelligent changes it makes to its source material but how it utilizes and weaponizes audience’s expectations against them to deliver satisfying and unexpected twists.
What You Can’t See…
Whannell makes excellent use of camera work with uneasy movements and wide framing, forcing his audience to focus their attention at all four corners of the screen, on the lookout for any strange movements. The tension is repeatedly heightened to nerve racking points by static shots of (seemingly) empty spaces.
Jump scares are thankfully used sparsely yet effectively as the nature of its villain has you guessing every second if something – or someone – will jump out and fantastic sound editing and mixing (or lack thereof) has you paying closer attention until its too late.
After you leave the theater you just might find yourself staring at empty chairs with a suspicious eye.
Composer Benjamin Wallfisch’s soundtrack for The Invisble Man falls somewhere between serviceable and intriguingly experimental, taking chances with some bizarre “high-tech” instrumentation yet is hindered by the prerequisite “loud sound” style that looks to make people jump.
Switching between quiet, melancholic piano pieces and high pitched electronic shrieks, Wallfisch’s score creates an effective if unmemorable sound that works well enough within context but won’t become an iconic score anytime soon. Sometimes, that’s good enough.
I’m not crazy.
The only thing more brilliant than inventing something that makes you invisible, is making you think that he did.
- The Invisible Man 360 Experience
- The Invisible Man Prank