The latest take on THE INVISIBLE MAN owes precious little to H.G. Wells’ original concept and far more to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements of the past few years. Granted, the story remains a science fiction/horror story this go-round, albeit one almost entirely interested in the violent abuse and stalking of the put-upon ex-girlfriend of the invisible antagonist. He is Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a brilliant scientist who’s created a special rubber suit that allows its inhabitants to become invisible. Griffin is supposed to be a genius, yet this hot-headed Neanderthal cannot think of any good use for his suit other than to don it to terrorize Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss), the girl who got away.
The film doesn’t seem interested in much other than her abuse either. Not only is she continually attacked by her ex in scene after scene of wince-inducing violence involving choking, kicking, and sucker-punching, but poor Cecilia cannot get a soul to believe what she’s going through. Virtually everyone she encounters in the film, be they family, friends, or authority figures, thinks she’s some sort of loon who’s making it all up and they treat her almost as shabbily as her ex.
And that’s precisely where the film utterly falls on its face as practical drama or clever horror. For Griffin to continue to thrive as a menace in the story, everyone around him must become an utter idiot. It is screenwriting of the worse kind, with so many plot holes, you can drive a semi-truck through them. Writer/director Leigh Whannell has been at the horror game for decades now, having written the original SAW, the franchise INSIDIOUS, and the clever sci-fi thriller UPGRADE from two years ago, and should know better than to throw such lazy plotting and impaired logic around on the screen.
Examples? We’re asked to believe that Griffin has figured out how to use multiple mini-cameras built into the suit to create the illusion of invisibility, but that not one colleague or co-worker would know about his latest invention. We’re asked to believe that a woman out to prove her ex is indeed wearing such a suit wouldn’t be savvy enough to find all kinds of powders, blankets, and more to throw on him to reveal his presence. And we’re supposed to believe that this mega-rich, famous scientist could stage his death – a throat-cutting suicide, no less – and that not one friend, colleague, cop, or reporter would look into the legitimacy of it.
Horror, more often than not, takes great leaps in believability to create effective scares, but this one doesn’t even try to paint its way out of all the ludicrous corners it paints itself into. The suit malfunctions when the plot needs it to and remains incognito all too conveniently when required to as well. The scientist’s pooch continues to run around the empty home, without one person thinking to take in the pet after the owner’s ‘death.’ A child is slapped and thinks it’s Cecilia who did it, even though she’s a few feet away. And the invisible baddie can be stabbed in the shoulder and chest multiple times, but of course, exhibit no weaknesses as he continues to fight, aim a gun accurately and take out dozens of law enforcers, and drive away in a car during a rainstorm with relative ease. It’s inane.
Late in the game, Cecilia meets with a trusted character in a bustling San Francisco restaurant and the invisible Griffin shows up to wreak havoc. Suddenly, as Cecilia is telling her story, a giant kitchen knife appears floating alongside her. She doesn’t notice it, her guest doesn’t, and no one else in the place witnesses it either. Yet, the invisible man wielding that giant, hovering knife manages to swiftly reach across the table to slice the guest’s throat and then plant the weapon in the waiting hand of Cecilia. Of course, she’s too in shock to do anything but grip the knife tightly, all the better to look guilty as hell.
In other set-pieces, like the one in the sanitarium where Cecilia is being held after her arrest for that restaurant murder, not one security guard can do anything helpful when confronted by the invisible perp. They all merely freeze in shock and awe, with one officer after another getting mowed down. With trained professionals like that, why even bother putting locks on a door? In order for any of this to work, everyone in this film must be as dumb as the clueless teenagers Jason Voorhees used to slaughter with abandon in all those god-awful FRIDAY THE 13TH sequels. The genre deserves better than such idiocy.
Whannell pulls off the special effects well enough, and Moss gives it her all, throwing herself into the role, literally and figuratively, with courageous abandon. Still, such attributes feel lost on a film that doesn’t ever want to act smart. It’s far too content to render story logic, cogent character action, and common sense as invisible as the bad guy. It’s not a pretty sight.