Up until recently, I’ve always thought of writer / director Leigh Whannell with regards to his connection to famed director James Wan (Aquaman), as the two of them emerged out of Australia was a writing / directing duo with the (at the time) ground-breaking Saw (2004). From that point on, the two of them became something of a horror flick power-house, pumping out solid genre entries like Death Sentence (2007), Dead Silence (2007), and the Insidious franchise (2010 – 2018), well done flicks that also earn the bucks. James Wan’s directing career skyrocketed immediately following the first Saw film, but Whannell didn’t go in that direction…till his surprisingly cool debut film Upgrade (2018), a fun-yet-violent as hell sci-fi revenge story, featuring some fantastic gore scenes and innovative camera work. I went into that one expecting…well…very little, to be honest. Not EVERYONE has the chops to direct feature films well…but Leigh Whannell does, as he again very aptly proves with his second Big Screen feature, this time lending his ‘voice’ to a modern retelling of the HG Wells science fiction classic The Invisible Man, originally written in 1897. So, armed with a $7 million budget, Whannell waded on in…and killed it!
First off – this new adaptation introduces us to ‘Cecelia Kass’ (Elisabeth Moss), the deeply unhappy wife of a highly successful tech millionaire named ‘Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) as she carries out a daring early morning escape from his abusive clutches. Once in hiding with the cop boyfriend of her sister’s, ‘James’ (Aldis Hodge), word reaches her that ‘Griffin’ took his own life soon after her escape. It’s soon revealed that ‘Griffin’ left ‘Cecelia’ $5 million, to be paid out over a 4 year period if she can avoid trouble with the law, or if there’s no signs of questionable mental stability. Soon after this, small unsettling things began happening in her life…leading her to a vicious showdown with revenge at the edge of the technological envelope!
What can I say? Leigh Whannell knows how to craft an effective film…especially in the sci-fi / horror genres, as he has now capably done twice in a row. I really liked how this tired story was handled and, most importantly, updated, to give us a modern take that isn’t TOTALLY outside the realm of reality. That’s one aspect that very much stood out for me…the subtlety of the execution under the direction of a deft hand behind the camera. Many times, Whannell made some very sly choices on select compositions and edits to unsettle us, the audience, while not actually showing us anything overtly unsettling. The disturbing element came from the SUGGESTION of a nefarious presence, which was highly effective.
Most of that suggestion, it must be said, comes from how Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale) carries and sells almost the entire 2 hour 4 minute run-time. This is her show. Yes, she’s backed up by some solid supporting actors / characters, several of which I’m unfamiliar with but now hope to see more of in the future. I found that everyone in ‘Cecelia’s life had some depth and charisma to them, which went a long way toward getting me invested in their plight, when the shit really goes down. And goes down, it does! Just like he did with Upgrade (seriously, check that one out if you haven’t), when it comes to the blood-letting, Whannell doesn’t disappoint. Now this flick isn’t some slasher type gore-fest, like what Paul Verhoeven (Robocop) did with his decently entertaining and similarly themed Hollow Man (2000), but when violence ensues…it ensues good! But that’s not the main selling feature, at least not for me. What I appreciated was the slow-burn approach, with the tension ramping up effectively as the story played out and the stakes becoming more and more dire for everyone involved. Bolstering this was the ‘real-world’ approach the script took with the invisibility aspect. In almost all other examples of ‘Man Becomes Invisible’ stories, it’s due to something chemical or biological, something that affects the ‘Griffin’ character physically (and yes, mentally too). Not so much the case here. I really liked the attempt to ground the ‘pseudo-science’ in something nearly plausible, which fell into place with the ‘real world’ vibe of the whole movie. I also liked that the narrative felt fairly well contained, taking place largely in only a few key locations. I’m sure the lower budget contributed to this, but I felt that it worked and made the awful stakes more intimate and creepy.
I don’t have all that much to say, on the Negatives front…though I have to throw in that I do agree with the common criticism that this flick has cultivated since it’s release and it has to do with a key scene. Let’s just say that for a film that features camera technology as one of it’s main plot points, a GIANT plot-hole / lapse-in-logic forms, when applying common sense to where this particular scene plays out. One security camera with a halfway decent shot would blow the whole ‘she’s clearly insane and as a result, dangerous’ motif out of the water. But they just gloss over it and keep on going. There’s also a distinct lack of regard for one key character by a couple others when that one bites the dust in a brutal way. It didn’t quite sit with the family dynamic that had been hinted at. I’d be curious to see if there may have been some Deleted Scenes that would ‘flesh’ some of that out. The same could also apply to some of the First Act, which does play a little choppier than it probably needed to, pacing-wise…but that’s not a huge Deal Breaker complaint.
All in all, I got exactly what I hoped for when I went to check out Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man today. It was a self-contained thriller with a solid cast that delivered, some inspired and creepy cinematography, a sweet ‘invisibility’ MacGuffin and a slow-burn pace that ramped up to a vicious and suspenseful crescendo right when it needed to, with a couple cool twists along the way. While the cinematography is above average, you don’t NEED to seek this one out on The Big Screen. However…once it hits disk or streaming…I can EASILY recommend you check it out, especially if you like high-quality suspenseful thrillers that keep you guessing, featuring a compelling protagonist you can easily root for, in a setting that feels tangible and ‘lived in’.