‘Invisible Man’ Explained: A Female Twist On A Horror Classic

Elisabeth Moss in The Invisible Man (2020)

It’s often the things you can’t see that scare you the most. In The Invisible Man (2020), every savage beating and ruthless throat-slashing happens right in front of your eyes—problem is, you never see who’s doing it. And half of the time, you’re not sure if it’s real or imaginary. And unlike all previous versions of this classic horror story, the victim—not the Invisible Man—is the lead character.

Plot

Cecelia—played by Elisabeth Moss of Mad Men and Handmaid’s Tale fame—is shown lurking through the darkness of an impossibly large seaside mansion in the opening sequence, and it quickly becomes apparent she’s trying to escape what is basically a high-tech prison in which Adrian, her abusive boyfriend, has kept her trapped. She drugs him with Diazepam but accidentally triggers some alarms in her escape—and she escapes only barely.

She goes to live with a childhood friend and his teenage daughter. Shortly after escaping, she is informed by Adrian’s brother that he committed suicide and left her a fortune that will be doled out in yearly installments—provided she behaves herself and doesn’t get arrested.

But things start disappearing…and things she thought she’d left behind in her mansion start reappearing in her new safe house…which leads Cecelia to suspect that her tech-genius boyfriend isn’t dead at all and has perfected technology that enables him to become invisible.

Invisible Man (2020) was originally a book written by H.G. Wells

Without doing a single thing and to her complete dismay, Cecelia starts alienating those around her—her sister gets a nasty email, and the daughter of her best friend gets physically attacked, and they both blame Cecelia, who is the only one that realizes it’s all her boyfriend’s doing.

For a twinkling of a moment, though, we’re not sure whether her boyfriend is still alive or if Cecelia has lost her mind. What we are sure of is that if he’s still alive, he’s actively trying to drive her insane.

When her sister dies from getting her throat slit at a restaurant, Cecelia gets arrested, although by now both she and the audience are sure that her ex-boyfriend in the invisible suit was the murderer.

When the man in the invisible suit is finally slain, it turns out not to be Adrian at all, but his brother. Her boyfriend is found alive, bound and gagged in his basement, only hours later.

Cecelia finds out she’s pregnant with Adrian’s baby because he’d been swapping out her birth-control pills with Diazepam. And he wants to not only apologize for his abusive past; he wants to build a family with her.

I won’t spoil the ending—although Wikipedia does—but let’s just say Cecelia agrees to meet her boyfriend back at the mansion for dinner, and she finally finds a way to make the invisible suit work to her advantage.

Trailer

The first third of this nearly three-minute official trailer is taken up with the opening sequence, which is followed with a good quick-cut synopsis of the rest of the movie, revealing that Cecelia never really escaped Adrian’s tortures. The final shot suggests that in the end, she finally achieves mental relief by turning the tables on her tormentor.

Review

My main criticism of the film is the absurdly dark lighting—there are entire sequences where the best you can see, maybe, is the hint of someone’s nose. Is that a nose there? Or is that the Invisible Man’s nose surrounded by darkness? Or maybe it’s just a bump on a log in the middle of the forest…maybe? Why are all modern films lit so poorly like they’re all Godfather remakes? Did all the lighting technicians go on strike? After 10,000 movies like this, no one associates dim lighting with “high drama” anymore. Personally, I find it hard to “watch” a movie that I can’t even see. In fact, I can’t even claim with confidence that I watched this movie, although I’m sure that I at least heard it.

My main praise of the film is that it’s not just a remake; it’s a redo. It takes the main premise—technology that can make one invisible—and sends a completely different message from an entirely different character’s perspective.

Elisabeth Moss does an admirable job of a woman who desperately clings to every last scrap of her sanity as it’s being ripped from her mind.

Oh, and the doom-laden industrial soundtrack was nice with songs from with songs from Benjamin Wallfisch, Reem, Peleboy, Billie Eilish, Post Malone and even Adele. 

How is this version of ‘Invisible Man’ different from the book, comic books, and prior movies?

The Invisible Man was originally an 1897 fiction classic written by H.G. Wells that involved a scientist’s attempts to alter optics so that he could appear invisible. In the novel, he finds he can’t reverse himself back into being visible, which becomes a problem both for him and for society because he has a fondness for random violence. In 1933, the novel first received the Hollywood version in a film starring Claude Rains as the Invisible Man:

The Invisible Man also became a comic book series published by Classics Illustrated in the 1950s; it was picked up by Marvel in the 1970s. In 2006, it was announced that Universal Pictures would remake the film as part of a series of interconnected films in the same cinematic universe, and Johnny Depp was slated to play the title role. This all fell apart when the first movie in this series, The Mummy, flopped in 2017.

Shortly thereafter, Leigh Whannell—director of Saw, Dead Silence, and Upgrade—was brought on board to both direct a completely new take on Invisible Man and write the screenplay.

Just as 2019’s Joker was a radical departure from the character’s comic-book origins, in the 2020 version of The Invisible Man, the lead character is not the title character—rather, it’s the abused girlfriend that the Invisible Man stalks, gaslights, and tortures both mentally and physically.

In what is definitely not the ending that H. G. Wells intended, but Cecelia emerges as a hero because she withstood unimaginable physical and mental tortures but did not allow it to break her.

Where is it streaming?

The film opened in late February and in its first weekend was the top-grossing movie in America. But it closed in theaters three weeks after its release due to the COVID-19 epidemic and is now available for streaming for $19.99 via Amazon Prime.