By: Kevin Jordan
See what I mean?
There have been plenty of adaptations of H.G. Wells’ classic The Invisible Man, going all the way back to 1933. My personal experience covers the pretty bad Hollow Man (featuring Kevin Bacon) and hot garbage that is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, not to mention the original novel itself. Based on that experience, combined with Universal Pictures’ spectacularly flopped Dark Universe (which began and died with The Mummy in 2017), my expectations were practically non-existent that Universal would deliver a watchable film featuring any of its iconic and classic monsters. On the plus side, Tom Cruise was not involved, Johnny Depp (originally slated to play the Invisible Man) and the original screenplay were unceremoniously shown the door, and Blumhouse Productions was given just $7 million to make The Invisible Man. Good call, Universal.
(SPOILER ALERT to discuss some plot points, but I will keep them to a minimum. You’ll see.)
Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) is trapped in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). We first meet Cecilia escaping Adrian’s secluded and disturbingly creepy and isolated house in the dead of night. This opening sequence is an exceptional piece of storytelling and filmmaking, developing characters, plot, and foreshadowing things to come without using any dialogue. Leaning into the very idea of visibility during the scene, we learn about the abusive relationship, what kind of character we can expect Cecilia to be, that Adrian is a genius optical engineer, that Adrian has invented an invisibility suit, and that Cecilia is clearly in for some invisible stalking and abuse in her near future.
Once free, Cecilia hides out at the home of her close friend, detective, and dude-with-massive-triceps, James (Aldis Hodge). Two weeks after her escape, her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) shows up at the house to inform her that Adrian is dead, apparently committing suicide. Not even the newbiest of movie newbies believes that Adrian is dead, so we immediately wonder if Adrian is now the invisible man and already watching her. This adds to a tension that was already ratcheted to nine by the first scene, ensuring that you will be on the edge of your seat. I hope you don’t have to pee during this film.
This tension continues throughout the film, but there are a couple of moments broken by poor writing choices. At first, the suspense builds very nicely as the invisible man starts harassing Cecilia in small ways, with the intention of driving wedges between Cecilia and her small circle of support (including James’ high school senior daughter Sydney, played by Storm Reid), as well as making Cecilia crazy. Then, two things happen that pulled me out of the movie. The first is when the invisible man sends a vicious email to Emily, using Cecilia’s account. To this point in the film, Emily and Cecilia seem to have a good relationship, Emily even doubling as Cecilia’s lawyer, so this email and Emily’s reaction to it are completely without context. This is quickly followed by a scene where Sydney and Cecilia are about to go to the living room to watch a movie, then the invisible man punches Sydney in the face. Like with the email, this action is completely out of character for Cecilia, plus they are staring at each other and not within arm’s reach of each other. Had Cecilia shown even the slightest hint of violence prior to this scene, it might have worked. Together, these scenes brought the film to a screeching halt and could easily have been fixed with ten minutes of tweaking the screenplay.
Fortunately, the film recovers from these stumbles, refocusing on the stalking and abuse of Cecilia, as well doing a much better job framing her for later horrors. The tension ratchets back up and Cecilia finally starts standing up for herself when she has no other options. There are a couple more noticeable trip-ups – one in the screenplay (an unnecessary pivot into pregnancy) and a continuity miss (Cecilia gashes her forearm open with a pen in an attempted suicide, a gash that neither bleeds nor affects her during the climactic fights) – but the tension at this point more than overpowers these smaller flaws.
By the end, the film more than makes up for its flaws, making it very entertaining. Moss is excellent in her performance, easily carrying this film on her back. The casting of Adrian is perfect; I’m not sure they could have found someone creepier than Jackson-Cohen (his facial expressions will haunt you), with an honorable mention to Michael Dorman playing Adrian’s nearly-as-creepy brother, Tom. And again, the thrills generated by the tension are colon-clenchingly great. They even managed to present a plausible technological explanation for the invisibility, wisely choosing not to explain it. For a film made on a shoe-string budget that was originally supposed to be part of a new cinematic universe, you could not ask for anything better.
Rating: Ask for two dollars back since the filmmakers did not see those two writing issues.