Thursday, 19 March 2020

The Invisible Man (2020)

Now You See Me Too

The Invisible Man (2020)
2020 Australia/USA/Canada/UK
Directed by Leigh Whannell
UK cinema release print.

Warning: Mild spoilers.

Writer/director Leigh Whannell’s new version of Universal’s franchise based on The Invisible Man is, I’m sure surprising nobody and just like many of the Universal sequels, really nothing to do with H. G. Wells original novel. That being said, the two things which both Well’s source and this movie version have in common is a central antagonist that shares the same last name as the original, Griffin and, similarly, the idea that he is an antagonist rather than protagonist... unlike the majority of the six original Universal films, is also retained.

Given director Leigh Whannell’s track record, the man who made the absolutely brilliant but still prohibitedly expensive to buy on Blu Ray movie Upgrade (reviewed by me here but, honestly, nobody wants to be paying £24 for this) you would expect that this film would be pretty good and, I have to say... yes, it really is. If you’re happy that this isn’t the same character that you knew from the 1933 version, then you should have a good time with this.

This time around, the film has been pitched firmly, it seems to me, to support the ‘me too’ movement and, although the final scenes of the movie are as troubling as the overly black and white ‘your perceived judgement of a situation trumps the possible truth of the situation’ reality of real life at the moment, there’s enough at the climax to make the ambiguity of the end game of an abusive relationship feel very true and I think it’s an extra feather in the cap for Whannell that some of the audience are going to walk out of the film with conflicting ideas as to whether justice has been served here for any of the characters.

Elisabeth Moss is absolutely fantastic in the role of abused girlfriend Cecilia Kass and she does carry the film extraordinarily well, backed up by a good supporting cast of people like Aldis Hodge and Storm Reid. Also, the film is well shot and edited but where it really comes into its own is with the sound design. This combined with Benjamin Wallfisch’s terrifically jumpy score (alas, not available on CD, only as a stupid electronic download) are what provide the film with the most scares. The film in itself, has no really big ‘fright moments’ but, due to the use of sound and music, you still get some quite intense suspense sequences in this thing.

Okay, so two standout things for me.

That sound work I just mentioned really comes into its own when, after two weeks confined in her friend’s house, Cecilia tries to brave the outside world once more by walking outside for ten seconds or so. The tension of her inner intimidation by the big, scary outside is strengthened incredibly as she puts her first foot out the door and the sound design gets suddenly muted and echoey as it does things to her footsteps. A really nice touch.

The other thing I liked about this is the way they played with modern conventions of horror which, in a way, also mimicked things Universal were doing with the series back in the 1930s and 1940s, for different reasons. That is the modern horror movie thing of the camera turning around and looking at empty rooms as you wait to spot some little detail in the shot that you know is going to scare you. It’s certainly something they would, by necessity, do in the original films in order to show you the visible signs of an invisible person being in the room... as you wait to see a tell tale foot print or a breath of cold air or a door opening. Here, though, Whannell does this purely, it seemed to me, to have fun with the modern viewer expecting to see these things. He’ll similarly focus the camera on an empty room as Cecilia is trying to see if she’s alone or not but, brilliantly, quite often does nothing with it. In the most cases, there are no indications to show there is anyone there or not... and you certainly know about it when it all kicks off. This, of course, strengthens the mood of carefully prepared paranoia which perpetually permeates the movie and I think taking this approach, at this particular time in horror film history, was a good idea.

There are some small problems I had with the movie... apart from the UK print being censored by a few seconds, ensuring that any future Blu Ray purchase from me needs to be imported from the US.

One of those problems is it’s not really a horror film. The weird science aspect of the chemical potion which gave invisibility but turned ones brain against one as it stayed in your system is gone. Instead, the lead antagonist is an optical science specialist and he’s basically wearing a stealth suit... it’s not unlike the terribly stupid car in Pierce Brosnan’s sad misstep of a Bond movie Die Another Day (reviewed by me here).

The other thing was the way it telegraphs an obvious twist in the middle of the film, where Cecilia gets a visit from a certain attorney. It totally gives away a reveal from later in the movie and I was a little disappointed that this was so blatant. However, it does lead the way for the second ending of the story and the whole problematic issue of the ‘me too’ element of the film... so I guess it’s at least good that this ‘almost twist’ is still in here. The final scenes give the film an interesting lack of clarity which may spark of debate at some point in the future, I suspect. Certainly, by the end of the movie, I would be as scared of the main protagonist as I was of the main antagonist so... yeah, I’m sure I’ll get moaned at for suggesting the ending could be read in more than one way but I suspect this was the writer’s intention.

So yeah, the new version of The Invisible Man is a pretty great time at the cinema and something I would recommend to fans of well put together suspense thrillers. A good attempt to resurrect a part of the Universal franchise.

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