Release Date(s)2020 (May 26, 2020)
Studio(s)Blumhouse Productions (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B+
In 1933, Universal Pictures continued its successful roll-out of cinematic monsters. They had already released Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy. H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man was next, with then state-of-the-arts special effects and a star-making vehicle for Claude Rains. Rather than remake the original film, Universal has turned out a creepy film with a plot that revolves around physical and emotional abuse.
Cecelia (Elisabeth Moss) is a terrified woman desperate to leave her manipulative, sociopathic boyfriend, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). In the opening scene, we see her summon the courage to escape. She succeeds with the help of a getaway car driven by her sister, Emily (Harriet Dyer). Mentally, however, she is still a wreck. Her childhood friend James (Aldis Hodge) takes her into his own home. Soon after, she receives word that Adrian has committed suicide and left her five million dollars, on the condition that she doesn’t commit a crime or isn’t ruled mentally incompetent.
As she tries to re-acclimate herself to a normal life, Cecelia begins to feel that she is not alone in empty rooms and that someone is watching her. Several occurrences cannot be explained, such as a kitchen fire that starts and a door that opens when no one is there. She begins to think that Adrian, a scientific wunderkind in the area of optics, is still alive and trying to control her.
In this exceptional thriller, with a premise based in science fiction, Cecelia is the central character despite the film’s title. Writer/director Leigh Whannell has used the Wells novel and the original film as reference points to fashion a completely new story. Rather than showing objects that appear to be floating by themselves and a series of bandages that reveal nothing beneath, the film uses camera movement to suggest an unseen presence. As Cecelia looks at some recently purchased dresses, for instance, the camera pans slowly to the right and settles on an empty corner of the room—or is it? In another scene, she steps out into the cold night and as the vapor emerges from her mouth, another vapor stream materializes right beside her. These unsettling touches contribute to the film’s eeriness.
As in Gaslight, a sensitive woman is manipulated to believe she’s going mad. But there the similarity ends. Though Cecelia is frightened, she never gives in, insisting that Adrian is the one causing awful things to happen. Rather than allowing others to convince her she’s not sane, she stands her ground.
Ms. Moss is excellent in the role. She conveys a broad range of emotion, from sheer terror to self-doubt to total alienation. Her portrayal is textured and never cliché. Having such a talented star in a film with a fantastical concept is essential to making it believable. Moss draws us in. We feel Cecelia’s fragility, sympathize with her, and root for her.
Labels can be misleading. Though The Invisible Man may be classified as a horror film, it’s more a character study of a deeply troubled woman trying to conquer memories of mistreatment and reclaim her once-normal life.
It’s refreshing to see a major motion picture this good made for the modest budget of $8 million when far lesser films are afforded far more in the belief that the costlier a film, the better it will be. Director Whannell relies on an artful script, a powerful actress, and imaginative cinematography rather than expensive whiz-bang special effects.
The Invisible Man digs into the Hitchcock bag of tricks to maximize suspense—the anticipation that something dreadful is going to happen. Tension builds steadily as we watch Cecelia navigate through unseen dangers and is so intense at points that even the sound of a dog dish being accidentally kicked can make a viewer jump.
The Blu-ray from Universal Pictures, featuring 1080p High Definition resolution, is presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 2.39:1. The film defies standard horror movie lighting by keeping the lights on in most of the interior scenes, but a suspenseful scene in the attic uses only a flashlight’s beam, keeping Cecilia’s face illuminated but her surroundings totally black. Even though an invisible entity does not require darkness to hide, it does heighten the tension. The overall color palette is muted to help establish a somber mood. The first scene is lengthy and nicely builds suspense as Cecilia begins her carefully planned escape. As she walks through the large house, she passes through dark rooms with large picture windows facing the ocean and a brightly lit laboratory. The cinematography artfully suggests an unseen presence by panning to empty spaces, lingering on emptiness, or framing subjects with a lot of space to the left or the right. The effects showing parts or the outline of the invisible man in a rain storm, covered with chemicals from a fire extinguisher, or coated with paint are exceptionally well rendered. The suit he wears is form-fitting, sleek, with an intricate pattern in deep black. It looks like the creation of a mad scientist from the Marvel Universe.
The Dolby Atmos audio provides a surround effect with sounds unexpectedly emanating from the left or the right, depending on the action. Sound is used subtly but effectively. A dog dish accidentally kicked at a crucial point induces an involuntary jump. Dialogue is clear and distinct throughout, with Cecilia’s speech pattern changing from hesitant fragility to greater self-assurance during her stay at James’ house. Director Whannell doesn’t hit us over the head with ominous music and sudden blasts of loud chords. The most suspenseful scenes are absolutely silent and successfully escalate tension. Optional soundtracks include English 2.0 DVS, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, and Spanish 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus. Subtitle options are English SDH, French, and Spanish.
Bonus materials on the 2-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include an audio commentary, deleted scenes, and three behind-the-scenes featurettes. A Digital code on a paper insert is included in the packaging.
Audio Commentary – Writer/director Leigh Whannell takes us through the production. The opening titles, with waves splashing against rocks to reveal the main credits, were generated by computer. Realistic water is one of the hardest things to create digitally. Music was composed for the opening scene but wasn’t used because the scene was more suspenseful without it. Adrian’s house is actually a composite of four different houses edited to look as if they are the same. Whannell tries to “weaponize an audience’s knowledge against them,” which means upending expectations and going in a different direction. Because the film was shot in Australia, it was important to make the outdoor locations look like Los Angeles. Whannell is fond of shots that go from out of focus to in focus. Elisabeth Moss is an incredible actress who “can do anything.” An elaborate scene that required getting permits, closing down a Sydney street, and hiring hundreds of extras wound up being cut “like Marie Antoinette’s head falling into a basket.” The fight scene between Cecilia and her invisible adversary was the most difficult to film. It involved a motion-control camera, a stuntman, a stuntwoman, and precise editing. The green-suited stuntman was difficult to completely “erase” by the special effects team. Good actors can elevate dialogue to the point that it’s not the writer’s anymore. Whannell discusses a number of scenes that are edited together to create a smooth-flowing visual narrative. During filming, there were a few scenes he felt might not work with an audience and others he was certain would be effective. The music in the final sequence is important in conveying an emotional exclamation point. The commentary concludes with Whannell acknowledging the many individuals who contributed to making The Invisible Man.
Moss Manifested – Elisabeth Moss describes the film as a woman’s “emotional journey” as she finds her strength. Excellent behind-the-scenes footage shows the intricate filming of the fight scene. A stuntman in a green suit stands in for Cecilia’s invisible tormenter. Against a green screen, the stuntman will disappear and the fight will look authentic. The last scene of the film was the first to be filmed.
Director’s Journey with Leigh Whannell – The director has been a big fan of horror movies since he was a teenager. He felt making a film about a character that hadn’t been featured much on screen was an opportunity to try something new. Different days of filming are documented by key scenes shot on those days. Some scenes include an actor’s throat being slashed, a car window being shattered, and a robotic camera filming a scene as numbers are counted out loud and actors must hit their marks on those counts.
The Players – Various cast members discuss working with Whannell, whom they agree was passionate about the project and took uninhibited risks. Cast members briefly discuss their characters and note that they had to be believable and grounded.
Timeless Terror – Excerpts from the 1933 original film starring Claude Rains are shown. Director Whannell speaks about the character’s iconic appearance—bandaged head, dark glasses, and hat. He wonders how the character could be “stretched a little bit.” How could he make the character current and relevant to today? The story is told from the point of view of a victim. Invisibility had to be a concept that the audience would accept, grounded in reality. Thus, we see that Adrian is an optics mastermind and we see his laboratory. There’s a connection to science and technology. Whannell wanted to respect the character and honor it by making a good movie.
– Dennis Seuling