When the words “remake” or “reboot” get thrown out, the reaction online is often filled with a great deal of righteous indignation. Along these cries of “you’re destroying my childhood!” often comes a strange forgetfulness that a new version doesn’t erase the old. Most recently, the announcement that director Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name/Susperia) would direct a new version of Scarface with a script by the Coen brothers was met with similar rancor despite the ’83 film from Brian de Palma being a remake of a ’32 film from Howard Hawks. All of this is a roundabout way of saying that the rush to judgement on an announced work without seeing it first tends to lead to ruin. But that’s what happens to us all when we think we own something, possess something that we cherish. The truth is, we own nothing but ourselves and it’s that which serves as a glorious jumping off point for writer/director Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man remake, now available on home video.
After suffering untold abuses, Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) puts a plan into action to leave her controlling husband Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Two weeks later, at her friend James Lanier’s (Aldis Hodge) house, her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) arrives to tell her Adrian died. Elated, yet distrustful, Cecilia attempts to pick up the pieces of her life and move on, except bizarre things start to happen around her. More and more she suspects that Adrian’s death is a ruse, but no one believes her. As things escalate beyond what appears reasonable, Cecilia must contend with one of two realities: her husband isn’t dead or she’s gone mad from torment.
Though not the first review to claim this, Whannell’s approach to the Invisible Man story is pitch perfect for the modern era. Rather than depict the protagonist as a scientist dealing with an error in the lab or a lapse in judgement, it’s addressing the very real issues of violence which occur to women across the globe. Most impressively, it’s not executed cheaply as to exploit trauma for the sake of entertainment. Instead, by focusing on Cecilia, Whannell’s script uses the experience of untold women to communicate the “invisible” violence heaped upon them in the form of disbelief, verbal control, removal of physical autonomy, and more. So often the response to hearing of a man’s mistreatment of a women is to say something along the lines of “I never saw it,” when that’s exactly the point. An abuser rarely makes it plain to others that the abuse is happening except to the victim, and once the abuser has a hold of someone, escape is nigh impossible. Though the conclusion of the film possesses some ethically grey aspects, everything leading up to that moment is deeply gratifying. There may have been an actual yelp and air-punch during the climatic fight.
In terms of setting the tone for his film, Whannell’s opening speaks volumes even though dialogue is minimal and immediately lets the audience know from where the tension will come: anywhere and everywhere. In the opening, Cecilia puts into action her escape from her husband, requiring her to move smoothly and quietly out of bed, to her go bag, change her clothes, and get out of the highly secured home — all without waking Adrian. Like most of the film, the opening is largely without composer Benjamin Wallfisch’s (It: Chapter One) suffocating score, only the sound of the waves from the water beating onto the shore just outside their cliff-side home. Just like Cecilia, the audience begins to hunt for sounds, anything which may indicate danger. The camera seemingly floats around her, sometimes in front, sometimes behind, speeding up and slowing down as she does, the energy of the camera completely in line with her. This synergy is important to establish early, so that when Adrian is pronounced dead and Cecilia forms her doubts, the camera frequently shifts to accommodate her perspective. In this case, it means lingering on an empty space or placing the camera in a perspective from an unseen individual. As the audience, we know that someone is watching Cecilia (beyond, you know, knowing the overall premise of the film from trailers) because that’s what the staging of the scenes tell us. The camera placement shifts, the staging of actors as though sharing a scene with someone, the score intensifies in the way John Williams famously clued audiences in that the shark was coming. For Wallfisch, though, the intonation is communicated through a sound of an almost robotic reverse-breathing, a reverberation that pulsates outward in an equally unfeeling way. Even before the audience is given undeniable proof of Cecilia being terrorized, we know, like she does, that what’s happening isn’t imaginary. The result is the audience starts to feel just as crazy as Cecilia up until the moment when the narrative shifts from psychological thriller to full-on technological horror. When it does, Whannell doesn’t hold back at all, making you realize just how tense and unnerving the first half of the film has made you. Unrelenting in its discomfort, the second half is agonizing philosophically and delicious narratively.
Even with a cast including Storm Reid (A Wrinkle In Time), Michael Dorman (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales), Jackson-Cohen (Faster), Hodge (Brian Banks), and Dyer (The Way We Weren’t) — each of whom put in great work with very little screen time — the entire film belongs to Moss. Without her performance, one of many career-highs on a list of incredible performances, there is no anchor as Moss imbues Cecilia with an every-women quality. This is, of course, mission critical as Cecilia is literally every women who has been tracked, watched, observed, or stalked in the history of everything. Moss has always been an impressive performer, but one need only look at the sequence where Cecilia and her sister Emily, played by Dyer, go to dinner as a quintessential example of her talent. Moss switches between a rainbow of emotions in seconds, all while being entirely present and grounded.
The review copy sent was the Blu-ray/DVD combo, so there’s no way to address with any authority how the film looks in the 4K UHD presentation. Given the apparent beauty in the set decoration from Katie Sharrock (Mad Max: Fury Road), art direction from Alice Lanagan (television series Mr. Inbetween), production design from Alex Holmes (The Babdook), and cinematography from Stefan Duscio (Upgrade) one can only surmise from previous 4K experiences that the film would look even more gorgeous and rich at the Griffin home, comforting at the Lanier home, and dispassionate at the San Francisco mental hospital Cecilia is admitted to. What I can speak of with absolute certainty is that watching the film with any kind of surround system is a must. Hearing the waves break against the rocks below the Griffin home at the start of the film as the waves move from the back of the room to the front gives the audience a sense of space and texture, which continues throughout the film. The sound, of course, is split between natural elements and Wallfisch’s score, the transitions between which place you on edge as neither are used as a means of specific cluing. There is no peace when enveloped by either Wallfisch’s harsh score or elemental notes because both give off a sense of unease, something which surround sound equipment can take full advantage of.
For those who finish the film and want to dig into how it was all put together, Universal Home Entertainment provides four featurettes to quench that inquisitive thirst. Three of them — “Moss Manifested,” “The Players,” and “Timeless Terror” — average around five minutes, taking time to explore three specific aspects of the making of the film. The shortest, “Timeless Terror,” enables Whannell and producer Jason Blum an opportunity to talk about the approach for the retelling. The most important thing Whannell explains is the desire to ground The Invisible Man in modern terms to make it less fantastical and more terrifying. If you loved Moss’s performance, then your next stop is “Moss Manifested” wherein you learn about the actor’s thoughts on the character, the narrative, and approach to tackling such an emotionally-centered story. Coupled with behind-the-scenes footage, you can listen to Moss explain how she did as many of the stunts as possible before her stunt double Sarah Laidler (Pacific Rim: Uprising) took over. The longest of the three shorts is “The Players” at just over five minutes in length. This one enables the other cast members to get some attention in the bonus materials. For instance, it’s fascinating to learn that Jackson-Cohen and Moss had to do their first and last scenes within the first week of shooting, something which is important for budgetary and schedule reasons, but highlights how strong the cast is to convey very different psychological points for their characters before any of the rest of the film has been developed. The main bonus feature is also the most amusing: “Director’s Journey with Leigh Whannell.” Hosted by Whannell, the audience first explores his thought-process for his approach to the story before he guides us, mini-documentary style, through major landmarks of the shoot. One standout tidbit is the use of a robotic camera that moves on a pre-programmed route, requiring the actors to follow a beat in order to ensure they are where they need to be at exactly the right moment. In short, the fight sequence becomes a dance as the actors must engage physically and react as their characters, while also being highly aware of what their position in relation to the camera is. Going back to watch the sequence at full speed with this knowledge makes it all the more impressive.
There are some films which drop and develop an immediate reputation. If it’s Josh Tranks’s Capone, it’s a it’s-so-bad-you-have-to-watch-it rep. If it’s Whannell’s The Invisible Man, all you heard were the terms “masterpiece” and “must see.” That’s a high bar to clear, yet Whannell did it. He certainly demonstrated high skill with the 2018 body horror/action sci-thriller Upgrade, but The Invisible Man is next level. From top to bottom, it’s a masterwork in tension that starts from the first wave crash and ends with the credits. There’s not a moment which feels safe, where the audience can relax or unwind, much like someone who’s been conditioned to always been on guard. To convey that so quickly and maintain that for the two-hour duration is beyond impressive, earning Whannell all the praise he’s received. If Universal does ever decide to reignite the “Dark Universe” series they hoped to do with The Mummy, perhaps they’ll contact Whannell and Moss and have them be the epicenter for a connected universe of tales. If that happens, we can only hope that Moss’s Cecile maintains that survivor spirit.
The Invisible Man Special Features
- Nine (9) Deleted Scenes (13:47)
- Moss Manifested – Elisabeth Moss describes the physical and emotional challenges she faced while portraying Cecilia, a woman whose truth is constantly questioned by those around her. (3:55)
- Director’s Journey with Leigh Whannell – Director Leigh Whannell acts as tour guide through principal photography, from day 1 to day 40. (10:52)
- The Players – Filmmakers and cast provide an in-depth analysis of each character and how they interact with the unseen terror of The Invisible Man. (5:25)
- Timeless Terror – A behind the scenes look at how writer/director Leigh Whannell re-imagined this iconic character through the lens of modern technology and socially relatable themes. (3:06)
- Feature Commentary with writer/director Leigh Whannell (2:04:23)
Available on digital May 12th, 2020.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD May 26th, 2020.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.