‘The Invisible Man’ Movie Review: Man Oh Man It’s Scary!

The Invisible Man is usually a monster in movies. He was one of the original Universal monsters and as recently as Kevin Bacon in Hollow Man, the guy who turns invisible was the bad guy. Occasionally, there’s a Chevy Chase or teen comedy version with an invisible hero. Except for those, most movies agree being invisible is scary. Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man is the scariest invisible man yet.

‘The Invisible Man’ as an abusive boyfriend

Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) escapes her abusive boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). Adrian commits suicide and leaves her $5 million in his will, but shortly after accepting the money Cecilia begins to suspect Adrian isn’t really gone. Obviously, the movie is called The Invisible Man so no one in the audience is worried it’s all in her head. 

The Invisible Man
Elisabeth Moss | Unviersal Pictures

Really, this is only a slightly exaggerated take on domestic abuse. Whannell explores how Adrian was already manipulating people and situations to take away Cecilia’s support systems. The film spends a respectable amount of time portraying the state it leaves Cecilia in, and gives her PTSD. Turning invisible gives Adrian a few extra tools, but the methodology is very real and poignant. 

Less is more with ‘The Invisible Man’

Invisible Man movies were always a showcase for the creative use of visual effects. Back in the ‘30s they could figure out ways to make Claude Rains disappear and by the ‘90s they were using computers. The most beautiful invisible effects remain 1992’s Memoirs of an Invisible Man, where gum chews itself and smoke fills his invisible lungs. In 2020 they could easily create any invisible effect with modern technology, but Whannell knows that less is more.

The most disturbing scenes in The Invisible Man are not big visual effects, but rather the insidious ways Adrian sabotages Cecilia’s life. He sabotages her work and her family relationships. That does more damage than grabbing Cecilia from behind and lifting her up because Adrian is doing things Cecilia can’t explain. 

Elisabeth Moss | Universal Pictures

Invisibility effects are usually about how amazing it is to be invisible. Even the Claude Rains movie was showing off how he could remove the bandages with nothing underneath, or make footprints in the snow (wearing shoes somehow). These are about how unsettling it is if something happens and you don’t see how it happened. It is cool when Cecilia breaks plates over Adrian’s invisible head though. 

A different take on invisibility 

In most invisible man stories, the invisibility drives the scientist insane. That’s an understandable take. The novelty of being invisible would wear off soon and literally disappearing would have to take a psychological toll. Even invisible heroes maybe don’t go as far as murder, but it’s more than just an inconvenience.

Adrian developed technology specifically for his nefarious purposes. The Invisible Man is not about what invisibility does to a man, it’s about how an abuser can become even deadlier with invisibility. That’s a terrifying new perspective. Even the exposition scenes are tense because the threat that Adrian could be lying in wait fills them with dread.

Elisabeth Moss | Universal Pictures

Cecilia is smart enough to catch on. She’s still at a disadvantage because, well, Adrian is still invisible, but she’s not helpless. Moss is excellent at portraying Cecilia’s deteriorating mental and emotional state. She remains a fighter but there’s a cost, as there always is. For a movie audience that has seen it all, Whannell crafted an Invisible Man where the scariest thing is truly what you don’t see.