(director/writer: Leigh Whannell; screenwriter: based on the H.G. Wells novel; cinematographer: Stefan Duscio; editor: Andy Canny; music: Benjamin Wallfisch; cast: Elisabeth Moss (Cecilia Kass), Aldis Hodge (James Lanier), Harriet Dyer (Emily Kass), Oliver Jackson-Cohen (Adrian Griffin), Storm Reid (Sydney Lanier), Michael Dorman (Tom Griffin), Benedict Hardie (Marc); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Jason Blum, Kylie du Fresne; Universal Pictures; 2020)

“A chilling re-imagined modern-day remake of the classic 1933 sci-fi/horror/monster film by James Whale.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A chilling re-imagined modern-day remake of the classic 1933 sci-fi/horror/monster film by James Whale, that’s based on the 1897 H. G. Wells sci-fi novel. That vintage film told about a power-hungry madman scientist who invents a cloak to make himself invisible. The Australian writer-director Leigh Whannell (“Upgrade”/”Insidious: Chapter 3”) smartly modernizes it into a tale of a damsel in distress from a toxic man. The subject matter is suited for today’s #MeToo generation to embrace.

Though well-penned it has story holes (such as no identifying coroner examination of the suicide victim to confirm his death and no logical reason given why the scientist genius would use all his energy to torment his girlfriend for leaving him and not use his new powers to do more stupendous things), too many set-pieces that don’t work dramatically and a bloody final act that was hard to swallow even if it was pleasing to the audience. Nevertheless it’s enjoyable and has a moving central performance by Elisabeth Moss as the female empowered ‘every-woman.’ 

This remake comes after Universal’s flop at remaking The Invisible Man with its 2017’s The Mummy, that had mega-star Tom Cruise trying to be invisible but unduly exposed in a very bad film.

Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) is an aspiring young San Francisco architect, living at a Stinson Beach ultra-mod and high-tech furnished mansion with her bullying boyfriend control-freak, the wealthy and brilliant narcissist optics innovator Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who keeps her captive as his prisoner. He’s so domineering that she receives death threats from him for just disobeying any of his orders, such as when he tells her how to dress and she fails to listen.

Afraid for her life, Cecilia flees from him after she drugs him with Diazepan and leaves their bed to turn off the house electronic security systems to get safely out of the prison-like house. Her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer), who somehow doesn’t quite know how abusive is the boyfriend, drives sis to the San Francisco home of their childhood good-guy cop-friend James Lanier (Aldis Hodge) and his teen daughter, Sydney (Storm Reid), as a place for sis to hide in. After a few weeks living there secretly, Emily comes over to say she learned on the internet that Adrian committed suicide because he was depressed by Cecilia leaving him. Soon after Cecilia receives a letter from Adrian’s spineless attorney brother Tom (Michael Dorman) and that leads to meeting him in his office where he displays a urn of his brother and tells her his brother left her $5 million in his Will.

But Cecilia’s still not relieved, as she fears her sociopath genius boyfriend is not dead and will find a way to haunt her. Sure enough strange things begin to occur that indicate he’s still alive and stalking her. But because he can’t be seen as he used his digital knowledge to cloak himself in invisibility, no one believes Cecilia that he’s still alive.

Strange incidents start happening that convinces Cecilia her ex faked his death and is out to torment her. The madman sends an e-mail to her sis in her name saying she wishes she was dead, which makes sis close the door on Cecilia’s face when she comes over to say she never sent it. The evil guy is unwilling to ever let go of his dream girl he continues to abuse and will go as far as to frame her for a slitting of the throat incident in a ritzy Chinese restaurant. This gets Cecilia put away in a secure psychiatric hospital prison, as no one comes to her defense and believes a word she’s saying about Adrian still being alive and being the murderer.

Since no can see Adrian doing these awful things to her, they dismiss her claims as bogus (these incidents relate to those of the women accusers of men who were not believed because the attacks were not caught on tape).

Cecilia is struggling not to lose it in such a frightening atmosphere, with jump scares coming with almost each set-piece and with her also dealing with a few wild plot surprises throwing a curve ball into the plot. Things look most glum, but Cecilia when pushed to the edge fights back and overcomes her nice girl vulnerability with a fierceness (which tells us that confrontation is the best way the filmmaker thinks to expose toxic men).

But even if too much was heavy-going, in the end it delivers a politically correct message that suggests domestic violence must not be kept hidden but must have a spotlight shine on it to openly identify abusers.

Elisabeth Moss as Cecilia Kass in "The Invisible
      Man," written and directed by Leigh Whannell.

REVIEWED ON 2/29/2020  GRADE: B-