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Popcorn with Zenger: ‘Invisible Man’ puts Elisabeth Moss in domestic-abuse thriller

A classic monster movie becomes a tale of abuse in this smart horror flick at first abandoned by Universal Pictures.

Elisabeth Moss plays the tormented girlfriend of the supposedly dead ‘Invisible Man’ (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The road to release for “The Invisible Man” hasn’t been smooth but the destination was worth it for Universal Pictures

Following 13 years of development limbo, the film was scheduled to be a part of the Dark Universe, a cinematic world crafted from Frankenstein, Mr. Hyde and other classic Hollywood movie monsters.

After the 2017 Tom Cruise vehicle “The Mummy” lost the studio an estimated $95 million, Universal dropped all plans for the shared universe, leaving “Invisible Man” dead in the water. 

Producer Jason Blum jumped in to revive the project last year and released it under his successful Blumhouse Productions brand, refocusing the film from a classic monster movie to a modern day story about abused women.

Elizabeth Moss stars as a physically and emotionally mistreated woman named Cecilia, who lives in terror as her obsessive boyfriend Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) controls every aspect of her life. 

Moss, as Cecilia, becomes convinced that her late former boyfriend, who had abused her, is not dead but invisible, and is tormenting her in real-time (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

As Cecilia manages to escape her boyfriend’s compound, she learns he has committed suicide and left her his estate. Her relief is short lived, however, as she discovers someone who she can’t see is stalking her and making her life hell again. 

Cecilia believes Adrian is still alive and somehow managed to become invisible so no one will believe her.

The film shines far more than it falters. From the opening sequence it lays the groundwork of tension to create anxiety and dread.

Writer and director Leigh Whannell has a successful history of good psychological thrillers with the “Saw” and “Insidious” franchises. His ability to project his protagonist’s paranoia onto the audience is the film’s biggest selling point. They feel Cecilia’s panic. 

Secondary characters don’t provide much depth given their screen time, making them one-noted. The score’s intensity and camerawork’s intimacy make up for lackluster acting, however, transmitting every punch and scream.

“The Invisible Man” is largely well-crafted but lacks a back-story for the haunting Adrian, because it was rewritten to separate it from its original cinematic universe. 

Adrian is described as a violent, narcissistic psychopath, but questions remain unanswered about how he got that way. His wealth is established early but viewers never find out where it came from, how he created his invisibility technology, or who he works for.

Cecilia teeters on the brink of insanity because no one believes her dead ex is still stalking and mistreating her (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Critically, his invisibility suit’s creation story remains a mystery. Given the two-hour runtime, a few more minutes of exposition would sharpen the plot. 

Some critics frame “Invisible Man” as a thinly veiled commentary on a society that seldom believes women who claim toxic men abuse them. But calling the film a #MeToo lesson is misleading. 

There is no lecture about how bad men are. And unlike in “Charlie’s Angels” and “Birds of Prey,” there’s no attempt to condemn them. If there’s a #MeToo tie-in, it’s actor Johnny Depp’s disappearance from the starring role following his ex-wife Amber Heard’s allegations of domestic abuse.

Blumhouse has reinforced its image as the home of smart and focused horror flicks, setting the standard for fresh takes on an old classic.

See Or Skip: Despite its long road to the big screen, “The Invisible Man” is worth the wait. It’s among the best crafted psychological thrillers in recent cinema.

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