In recent years, the trope of the invisible man has become something of a punchline in TV and movies, relegated to satirical superhero media such as the one-note joke character of the Vanisher in Deadpool 2. Or as an almost pathetic peeping tom-style character with Translucent in The Boys, and Rodney Skinner in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Not since Hollow Man (2000) has the concept been a source of true menace.

Twenty years on, enter Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man (2020). This movie brings the invisible man concept firmly back into the horror genre, reimagining the story as a psychological horror come ghost story, which uses masterful cinematography and the brilliant performance of Elizabeth Moss’s¬†Cecilia to create an atmosphere of suffocating anxiety.

The movie follows Cecilia, a woman fleeing from an abusive relationship with a controlling tech genius billionaire, Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). After her abuser apparently commits suicide, she stands to inherit a portion of his exorbitant wealth. However, an unseen force soon encroaches upon her fragile safe place, determined to drive her insane.

Whannell makes great use of off-centre framing, lingering upon empty spaces which the audience infers is the location of the Invisible figure, even in seemingly normal scenes, creating a permanent sense of dread. Violence, when it comes, is sudden and explosive and intensely shocking. As one would expect with the director of Saw, such violence is very visceral, but is not gratuitous. I don’t want to spoil where it comes in the movie, but there is a scene which sprang violence completely out of nowhere, and knocked me for six.

The greatest element of this adaptation I feel is how it reframes the horror of The Invisible Man for a modern audience. Unlike other adaptations, which depict the gradual degeneration of the Invisible Man’s sanity through his eyes, we witness this horror through the eyes of an abuse survivor. The best horrors play upon real-world fears, and this movie is no exception; the way the Invisible Man isolates Cecilia, eroding her support network of friends and family, will be uncomfortably familiar to actual abuse victims. It is an interesting analogy of how abuse can often be well hidden from those outside of a relationship.

The biggest departure between this adaptation and those which have gone before is the means by which Griffin is rendered invisible. This is no biological affliction that drives our antagonist insane as in Hollow Man, the 1933 adaptation, or indeed the original H G Wells serialised novel. Rather it is Griffin’s own malice and controlling nature which informs the creation of his suit.

The design of the Invisibility costume is inspired. Not only is it relatively plausible with current technology, but it is symbolically perfect for a monster of the age of the smartphone. This is a monster with a skin of cameras. It is the ultimate expression of the 21st Century’s anxiety of surveillance culture. Adrian Griffin is an intruder in every sense, invading our homes, interfering in our lives, even intruding on our very thoughts.

There was a late addition plot twist which I didn’t think really landed. But aside from this mild complaint, this is a delightfully uncomfortable movie, with a very satisfying conclusion.

I consider this the first win in Universal Pictures recent attempts to reboot their old monster franchises. Unlike The Mummy, which became a vehicle for Tom Cruise and a clumsy attempt at a cinematic universe, The Invisible Man is a tightly wound, deftly plotted horror movie, which stands on its own. More like this Universal, pretty please.

About Andrew R. Aston

A novelist and a resident reviewer for Tbird, A.R Aston hails from deepest, darkest England. From his rain-drenched lair, he has had several short stories published in anthologies, such as Wicked Women from Fox Spirit Books and Outliers Saga. His debut novel, The Hobgoblin’s Herald, is due for release 2017.