CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: LEIGH WHANNELL / SCREENPLAY: LEIGH WHANNELL / STARRING: ELIZABETH MOSS, OLIVER JACKSON-COHEN, ALDIS HODGE, STORM REID, HARRIET DYER, MICHAEL DORMAN / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 28TH
It is incredible how timeless and more pertinent H.G Wells’ The Invisible Man has become since its publication in 1897. After countless adaptations and the passing of time, humankind has gotten so much closer to mastering tech/science to make invisibility more tangible. In retrospect, this makes Wells’ novel, and the theories behind it all the more fascinating but suggests that one day The Invisible Man may be construed as quaint, archaic and possibly obsolete, like Jules Verne’s Rocket to the Moon. Over past years advancements have fired film-makers’ imaginations with fresh ways to update Wells’ story for audiences.
Following the James Whale directed, Claude Rains classic in 1933, came a swathe of lesser sequels and spin-offs throughout the 1940s. The 70s saw Disney’s Kurt Russell starring Now You See Him, Now You Don’t which lead to slack and tacky iterations throughout the 1980s including; The Invisible Kid and The Man Who Wasn’t There (1983). In the early 90s, John Carpenter mashed action and comedy while retaining the spirit of James Whale’s original in his massively underrated Memoirs of an Invisible Man. A decade later, Paul Verhoeven had the last most striking stab at “adapting” Wells’ novel with the fun but schlocky Hollow Man (forget the limp Christian Slater led follow-up).
Twenty years on and Upgrade writer/director Leigh Whannell has crafted a stark and sinister spin on the tale, which is by far the most frightening adaptation yet. The story sees wealthy tech genius Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen): a “narcissistic”, “sociopath” so emotionally dependant on girlfriend Cecilia (Elizabeth Moss) he’s compelled to control every aspect of her life. Cecilia suffers in silence as a result of his psychosis but one day manages to escape Adrian’s clutches. Cecilia then finds herself living in fear of the possibility that Adrian will one day locate her. After learning of Adrian’s sudden, tragic death, Cecilia slowly accepts that it’s finally over and starts to find peace, but strange incidents start occurring suggesting Cecilia might be losing her mind, or that Adrian might not be entirely gone.
The plot primarily focuses on protagonist Cecilia, played by the captivating Moss. Cecilia soldiers forth shattered and fractured but fighting what others believe to be a figment. Whannell’s lens lingers on empty spaces which, when accompanied by a discomforting hum. This instils tension and wonder within the viewer about whether Adrian is alive and watching Cecilia or not; capitalising on our classic, primal fear of the unknown.
Whannell retains the slick sci-fi vibe of previous film Upgrade; working wonders with Wells’ source by extrapolating the horror to hone an apt, icy atmosphere and make the film more chilling. Whilst seldom on-screen, Jackson-Cohen enthrals as Adrian, relaying unhinged psychosis which the character does his best, but fails, to restrain an attempt to suggest he is not-so-quietly broken, whilst actually brimming on a massive mind eruption. Adrian is immediately terrifying and becomes even more so after his “death”. This is due to both Jackson-Cohen’s acting, Andy Canny’s editing and Whannell’s direction.
The script burns slow but contradictorily captivates due to underlying dread which simmers before intensifying into suspense. Tension fluctuates before ascending a crescendo then buds into knife-sharp frights which scare greater than those synthetically entrenched in recent mainstream/studio horror pictures.
In the second half/final third, The Invisible Man ups the ante and turns into more of a sci-fi/ action thriller but retains the intensity and gets better as it progresses. The script is slightly mired by sporadic clunky dialogue and a couple of unnecessarily elongated scenes/sequences, but Whannell’s film predominantly prevails and is undoubtedly one of the best TIM adaptations.
The Invisible Man is timely, probably prescient and apt for our online/ in-hand social media age; a time when it is nearly impossible to exist out of sight and off the grid. Whannell does away with (but slyly winks at) the bandaged face and bubbling lab canisters of earlier TIM incarnations, but substitutes with a terrifying, tech attentive take that’s as captivating as the Claude Rains original, gives the Chevy Chase starring Carpenter one a run for his money and crushes Steve Guttenberg’s The Man Who Wasn’t There like an erratic, incapacitated cockroach with polio.