September 23, 2020

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Remake of horror classic more than meets the eye

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/2/2020 (207 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When it comes to invisibility, less is more.

The less you see an invisible enemy, the scarier it is.

The "less is more" maxim is evidently a lesson that’s been learned the hard way by Universal Studios after the dismal reboot of the Mummy movie a couple of years back. Turns out a big, bombastic action piece putting Tom Cruise front and centre was not the way to go with the Mummy franchise. But at least it forced the studio to step back and appraise its approach to re-interpreting its horror back-catalogue.

That’s why Universal jettisoned its plan to make a new Invisible Man movie starring Johnny Depp, and went a-calling on Leigh Whannell. The former partner to James Wan on the Saw movies, Whannell turned to a more classical approach to horror working on the Insidious franchise, which made him a savvy choice to take on one of the studio’s more classical properties.

It's tough to stab what you can't see: Elisabeth Moss in The Invisible Man. (Universal Studios)

It's tough to stab what you can't see: Elisabeth Moss in The Invisible Man. (Universal Studios)

But the writer-director is not at all beholden to the H.G. Wells novel on which the movie was based. In fact, the title character is barely there in this take.

Instead the focus is on Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss), whom we find living in an expensive modern home, overlooking the seaside, quietly escaping the clutches of her wealthy, controlling partner, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), presumably a tech multi-millionaire working in the field of optics.

Cecilia’s getaway is successful, thanks to a timely rescue by her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer). She takes up residence in the safe home of Emily’s muscular cop boyfriend, James (Aldis Hodge), and his daughter, Sydney (Storm Reid). However, she has lived under Adrian’s thumb long enough to be paranoid about his ability to continue to make her life hell.

That suspicion persists, even when she learns Adrian has been found dead of an apparent suicide. Bad things start happening. But even the movie audience sees little in the way of visual effects-enhanced mayhem in the beginning. Then things start to get very rough indeed, and Cecilia’s justified paranoia makes her the prime suspect in the criminal activity to follow.

One imagines Johnny Depp might have been another incarnation of the homicidal anti-hero of the original film. Considering that, one must appreciate all the more Whannell’s choice to turn Moss’s character into the protagonist. Whannell likely understands that 2020 is not the era for putting the focus on wealthy, narcissistic megalomaniacs, as we’ve all probably had our fill of that particular commodity.

Cecilia Kass's paranoia makes her the prime suspect. (Universal Studios)

Cecilia Kass's paranoia makes her the prime suspect. (Universal Studios)

Whannell also found a way to sustain the Invisible Man theme of insanity. In the 1933 original by director James Whale, the title character suffered madness as a side effect of the drug that rendered him invisible. That side effect even showed up in Paul Verhoeven’s predictably perverse take on the material, Hollow Man (2000), in which scientist Kevin Bacon’s invisibility liberated his most psychopathic tendencies.

Here, while the title character is clearly not in his right mind, the condition threatens Cecilia’s own grasp of reality.

It has flaws. Sometimes Whannell doesn’t explain enough, other times he explains too much. (The movie’s perfect ending happens about 10 minutes before its actual ending.)

But Moss certainly carries the movie — better than Cruise carried The Mummy. She’s mastered slow-burn suffering on the TV series The Handmaid’s Tale, and she brings that experience to bear here, anchoring the fantastic circumstances of Cecilia’s torment to the real world.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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