October 21, 2020

‘The Invisible Man’: When Danger Is Present — And Clear

Celia (Elisabeth Moss) can’t see ya, in The Invisible Man.

Universal Pictures

Of the Universal classic monsters — Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, et al. — The Invisible Man is by far the most destructive, the most psychotic, and, not coincidentally, the most recognizably human of them all. (As played by Claude Rains, he’s also the wittiest.) When a man doesn’t have to look at himself in the mirror, he divorces himself from the moral accountability that curbs his worst instincts. Arrogance and contempt are his defining character traits, and invisibility has the effect of weaponizing them, because his scientific genius has both isolated him from other people and heightened his superiority complex.

With his ingenious updating of The Invisible Man, writer-director Leigh Whannell changes perspective from the mad scientist to the terrified victim he’s stalking, which effectively turns the film into Gaslight with a horror twist. And with an actress of Elisabeth Moss’ caliber in the lead role, the film has a psychological realism that’s unusual for the genre, with Moss playing a woman who’s withstanding a form of domestic abuse that may have a supernatural component, but feels sickeningly familiar in many respects. Invisibility has the effect of elevating a person’s worst instincts, so it follows that the manipulation and torment she experiences is just a more extreme version of common behaviors.

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