Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) has recently escaped an abusive relationship from Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Adrian nearly caught Cecilia, but her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) picked her up and drove her away to safety. Living with her cop friend James Lanier (Aldis Hodge) and his soon-to-leave-for-college daughter Sydney (Storm Reid), Cecilia is afraid to walk outside fearing Adrian will find her. That fear finally dissipates when Emily tells her Adrian has died by suicide. Cecilia receives a letter from Adrian’s lawyer and brother Tom (Michael Dorman) that she is Adrian’s heir. At a meeting in his office, Tom informs Cecilia she is inheriting $5 million, distributed in monthly $100,000 payments, as long as she doesn’t violate any of the will’s stipulations. If she is charged with a violent crime and/or she’s found mentally incompetent, she will forfeit the money. Unconcerned about the conditions, Cecilia sets up a college fund for Sydney as a thank you to her and James for housing and protecting her. But soon, Cecilia feels like she’s being watched. Her portfolio of architecture drawings disappears, and she is drugged, causing her to pass out at a job interview, among other odd occurrences. She begins to believe Adrian isn’t dead and is somehow responsible. Her sister, James and Tom all believe she is losing her mind, but Cecilia knows there’s something more.
In 2017, Universal Studios had big plans for its classic monsters. Hugely popular in the 1930’s and later decades, Dracula, Wolfman, Gill Man, Frankenstein’s Monster, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Mummy and Invisible Man had series of financially successful B-movies, but in recent times were largely unused, with the exception of occasional one-off’s. Then the Dark Universe was announced with a lineup of A-list actors like Johnny Depp, Russell Crowe, and Javier Bardem, scheduled to star in origin, but interconnected, movies then form a monster team-up. The first of these films was “The Mummy” starring the current superstar of superstars, Tom Cruise. The film was critically panned, and audiences largely stayed home. It grossed over $400 million worldwide but, on a budget of nearly $200 million, it likely cost Universal tens of millions in losses. The Dark Universe had a wooden stake driven through its heart. Now, Universal has changed course and is producing smaller, standalone films with its classic monsters, the first of which is “The Invisible Man.” If this film is any indication, Universal may eventually have the Dark Universe they dreamed of.
“The Invisible Man” isn’t some globetrotting blockbuster adventure like “The Mummy,” but a small and simple story of a woman trying to escape a controlling, manipulative and abusive man. It’s something audiences can sadly relate to more than an international spy slapping on a high-tech suit or drinking a magic formula and turning invisible. It’s a story of power, control, money and sex. It’s a #MeToo horror story with a bit of razzmatazz thrown in. Bullies can be invisible on the Internet, wielding their words like a cudgel, threatening death, financial ruin and sexual exploitation while maintaining their own anonymity behind a screenname and avatar. While “The Invisible Man” is more hands-on in his efforts to harm and manipulate, the effects are just as devastating.
Elisabeth Moss is so very good as Cecilia. Her PTSD in the immediate aftermath of leaving Adrian is heartbreaking as she cannot leave her friend’s house. She keeps her eyes down, her body is a tight coil of fear waiting to spring out of danger’s way. When she sees a jogger wearing a dark sweat suit with his hoody up and dark sunglasses hiding his eyes, she runs away fearing it is her abuser. Once she believes he’s dead, Cecilia is once again subjected to fearing for her safety and sanity as she is attacked again and again. Moss can deliver a frantic and tortured performance like few others. Her work on Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” has earned her both Golden Globe and Emmy Awards for her acting. She was also a standout on the AMC show “Madmen.” Moss is a powerhouse in the role of Cecilia, and I hope her work doesn’t get ignored during next awards season because the film came out early in the year, and because it’s a genre film. Her performance is deserving of consideration.
Writer/director Leigh Whannell has designed a tight and fast-paced tale of psychological revenge and physical escape. It’s a masterclass in economical film making. Whannell’s script doesn’t waste one moment on unnecessary dialog or meaningless sentimentality. It is a relentless film that rarely takes its foot off the gas. Even quiet moments are fraught with unending tension. From the opening scene until the surprising ending, the audience is never sure what’s about to happen but knows something eventually will. I found myself looking in the background for objects to move or footprints to appear, sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. No matter what, you expect something to happen and that makes the tension more excruciating. Whannell wisely keeps the audience guessing about the next surprise and doesn’t tip his hand with cheap tricks. All the fear generated by the film is earned and it’s exhausting.
“The Invisible Man” is rated R for some strong bloody violence, and language. There are numerous shootings, and most have some blood spray. We briefly see a picture of Adrian’s suicide, also bloody. Two necks are slit and there is a great deal of blood from those. An invisible assailant picks up Cecilia and threatens her with a knife. There are a couple of fights between visible and invisible combatants. One character is beaten bloody. A young woman is threatened and thrown around. Foul language is surprisingly rare.
Jason Blum and his Blumhouse Productions is one of the producers of “The Invisible Man.” Blum is known for his low-budget and obscenely profitable films including “Get Out,” “Paranormal Activity,” “Insidious,” “The Purge,” and many, many more films and franchises in the horror genre. “The Invisible Man” had a production budget of $7 million, and an estimated opening weekend domestic gross of $29 million. Depending on pre-release promotion, the film has probably already turned a profit and will continue to ring up revenue for Universal and Blumhouse. It is yet another example of how genre films don’t need to throw hundreds of millions of dollars at the screen when some well-done sleight of hand can produce the same if not better results. Of course, that won’t stop the next budget-busting blockbuster from nearly bankrupting a studio (James Cameron, I’m talking to you), but it should be yet another lesson to producers that bigger isn’t always better.
“The Invisible Man” gets five fully visible stars.
This week, four new films hope you vote with your dollars for the next leader of the box office. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:
The Way Back—
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