‘The Invisible Man’ review: post-Me Too reboot of a horror classic falls foul of genre’s golden rule

Monster Movie 101: don't reveal the villain too soon

There is a rule in horror films – much ignored – that once you see the monster, its power to scare diminishes. Recent examples include: The Nun, so creepy before titular sister Valak bears all; Insidious: The Last Key, another demon unveiled too soon; and It: Chapter 2, which waited all of 10 seconds before wheeling out killer clown Pennywise for his next trick. There are some that buck the trend – A Quiet Place wisely kept alien sightings to a minimum and you never even glimpse The Babadook – but Leigh Whannell’s new reboot of The Invisible Man, sadly, isn’t one of them.

Adapted from H. G. Wells’ classic story about a murderous scientist who manages to turn himself transparent, 2020’s The Invisible Man is much more than a maniacal boffin gone rogue. Instead, this timely psychological thriller adds elements of 2016 mystery The Girl On The Train to weave a taut, suspense-filled tale of domestic violence, gaslighting and sociopathic exes.

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During a tense opening scene, Cecilia (Elizabeth Moss) finally manages to escape from her abusive partner Adrian’s mansion (which looks suspiciously like Iron Man’s beachfront pad). But later, when she hears he’s killed himself and left her his fortune, a series of increasingly lethal events leads her to wonder if the millionaire inventor really is dead after all.

The Invisible Man
Elizabeth Moss hides from the titular villain. Credit: Universal

It’s no spoiler to reveal that The Invisible Man is, of course, an invisible man. The title is a bit of a giveaway, but director Whannell still has plenty of fun crafting creepy sequences and nicking ideas from Paranormal Activity. Duvet covers get torn off by no one, knives float about in mid-air and mysterious handprints appear on steamed-up shower doors. Perhaps the scariest moment is when Cecilia chucks a pot of paint over her unseen opponent’s head, suddenly revealing his face, inches from hers. Unfortunately, this particular set-up is where the scares stop – and from then on, the whole thing starts to seem tedious.

As soon as our veiled villain is unmasked, he instantly becomes less terrifying. Before, he was unknowable, but post-painting we see him in his human form – vulnerable and infinitely weaker. Fear of the unknown is what drives us to be afraid, not fear of the thing itself. The Invisible Man, regrettably, fails to realise this.

The Invisible Man
Elizabeth Moss is dragged away by cops in ‘The Invisible Man’. Credit: Universal

Apart from that one fatal flaw, however, there is a lot of fun to be had here. Moss is on career-best form as the distressed yet determined Cecilia, while the film’s absorbing concept makes for a nice change from the production line horror that big studios have been churning out recently. Elsewhere, there are impressive turns from Aldis Hodge (Hidden Figures) as a concerned friend, and Euphoria youngster Storm Reid who plays Aldis’ daughter. There aren’t many characters in The Invisible Man, but each plays a pivotal role in what happens.

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Eventually, the action builds to a disappointing climax which allows for a mega-bucks sequel down the line. Universal made a hash of its last attempt at horror world-building – Tom Cruise’s 2017 flop The Mummy put paid to their MonsterVerse plans – so it’s unsurprising that they want to cash in on a new franchise. Let’s just hope they don’t make the same mistake again.

Details

  • Director: Leigh Whannell
  • Starring: Elizabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid
  • Release date: February 28
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