The 2020 update of “The Invisible Man” dispenses with the original provocative perspective for the sake of a modern construct — the #MeToo era.
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From H.G. Wells’s original novel to James Whale’s 1933 film treatment to Paul Verhoven’s “Hollow Man,” the engrossing aspect about “The Invisible Man” is its portrait of the corrosive effect of omnipotent power. In each incarnation, a scientist develops a means to become invisible, then because he either can’t or won’t, he remains in that state after becoming intoxicated by the unchecked liberties at his disposable. Human psychology, unbridled by moral mores, implodes under the weight of being a god.
The 2020 update of “The Invisible Man” dispenses with this provocative perspective for the sake of a modern construct.
Writer-director Leigh Whannell’s adaptation isn’t really about a scientist’s descent into madness. Instead, the man is already a monster, a wealthy abusive entrepreneur named Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who pushes his live-in girlfriend Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) to concoct an elaborate ruse just to escape his clutches. Secreted away by her sister (Harriet Dyer) and friend (Aldis Hodge), Cecilia lives in hiding, petrified that Adrian will find her, until word comes that Adrian has committed suicide and bequeathed her millions.
Despite that apparent solace, Cecilia suspects something’s amiss after odd apparitions start appearing around the house. Cecilia becomes convinced that Adrian, a toxic masculine optics expert, is alive and surreptitiously stalking her. Everyone else thinks Cecilia is paranoid, if not outright crazy.
The first half of “The Invisible Man” is a thought-provoking take on the psychology of domestic abuse. Because we’ve seen this sort of story before — think “Fight Club” — the audience also invariably wonders whether it’s all in Cecilia’s head. That question ignores the fact that the residual fear felt by an abuse victim is all too real. In some ways, it doesn’t matter whether an alive yet unseen Adrian is actually terrorizing Cecilia. The anxiety he fostered still lingers and torments.
Whannell’s direction remains taut throughout, mining more dread out of long, static shots of empty doorways and the corners of rooms than standard issue jump scares. He’s aided by a powerhouse performance from Moss — Cecelia’s downward spiral from despair to disintegration is jaw-dropping.
Still, the film loses some intrigue once the veiled is pulled back and the peril becomes more literal. The film becomes more of a general thriller (albeit a well-made one) rather than a meta exercise. Until that point, the audience finds itself questioning the veracity of a woman claiming terror at the hands of her domestic partner. #MeToo? Y tú.