Writer-director Leigh Whannell’s contemporary take on The Invisible Man (arriving today on Blu-ray and DVD) peaks early. So early, in fact, that from the end of the superlative first sequence it only gets less and less interesting. In the first few minutes, we witness Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) carefully escape the high-tech prison owned by her Elon Musk-esque abusive husband. Stakes are clear without ever seeing more than his sleeping body: This is a dangerous, cruel man who will do Cecilia harm, and her life is on the line. Whannell is capturing a universally recognized experience. Our empathy is easy and the tension is real.
It sets the stage for the movie’s use of the classic Universal Studios monster as a literalization of the “ignored woman” trope, which is notably trendy at the moment. Unfortunately, The Invisible Man never understands the power of its ideas on a character level. It isn’t the high-tech house or the sudden car alarm that creates the first scene’s power: It’s the real terror in Moss’s performance and the knowledge that her husband doesn’t need a special suit or one-shot action sequences to hurt her.
Whannell settles quickly into a groove that uses Cecilia’s terror to tell an otherwise fairly standard-feeling take on the stalker ex-husband motif. There are some twists and turns, none of which are emotionally salient enough to reasonably resonate. Whannell does tap into his action chops (as seen in Upgrade a few years back) with a neat hallway sequence but nothing lives up to what it feels like it could be.
Still, Blumhouse Productions swings for the fences with its low-budget approach to reviving Universal Studios’ classic IP after the hallowed studio’s disastrous attempt at rebooting The Mummy a few years back. This is indisputably Whannell’s vision, warts and all. It fails to be something greater but is also undeniably tactile in its action and (somewhat) clever in the way it uses the monster character to set up scares. Ultimately serviceable.
Special features include a commentary track with Whannell, as well as some short special features about the cast and crew. The features aren’t terribly in-depth.