The Invisible Man (2020)
As I begin this review, I’m chuckling to myself over something I wrote in my Underwater review almost a month ago: “Somewhere along the line (perhaps in 2004 with the introduction of the first film in the Saw franchise), Hollywood started turning the horror genre into something . . . distasteful. Filmmakers went from trying to simply scare people to trying to outdo each other by shocking and brutalizing viewers with horribly graphic depictions of torture and mutilation.”
The Invisible Man is categorized as “horror” and happens to be written and directed by Leigh Whannell, the gentleman who wrote the first three films in the Saw franchise as well as four installments of the grisly Insidious series. But don’t let
Whannell’s connection with those films deter you from seeing Man, as it is far more a psychological thriller with a few jump scares thrown in than a traditional horror film, and it certainly shares little of the grisly attention to the macabre with Saw.
Following a string of films over the years based loosely on H. G. Wells’ 1897 book of the same name, Man updates the story for the 21st century, using modern technology along with some timely feminist issues to craft a tale that is both suspenseful and engaging. It was also one of the films that received an incredibly short theatrical run—just four weeks—before NBC Universal made the decision to make it available as a premium-video-on-demand rental for $19.99 and then for purchase in full 4K HDR video quality with a Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtrack.
The film begins with Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) escaping a beautiful oceanfront home in the dead of night. We’re given no reason for her escape, but her terrified demeanor and elaborate plans, which include drugging her husband
INVISIBLE AT A GLANCE
More psychological thriller than horror film, The Invisible Man relies on film-like visuals and a carefully crafted surround mix to create an appropriately creepy atmosphere and deliver the scares.
HDR helps bring needed accents of light to the film’s many dark scenes.
The Atmos mix heightens the sense of horror by continually immersing you in the action, whether through subtle sounds like the creaking of tree limbs or the loud crashing of waves against a rocky shore.
with Diazepam and turning off all the security cameras, make it clear the marriage to wealthy optics pioneer Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) has not been a loving one.
Cecilia describes years of dominating control and psychological and physical abuse at the hands of Adrian, and hides out with policer-officer friend James Lanier (Aldis Hodge) and his teenage daughter Sydney (Storm Reid), terrified to even step foot outside the house for fear her husband will track her down. When her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) brings news that Adrian was found dead of apparent suicide, Cecilia feels her life might finally be hers again. But she is then summoned to the law office of her husband’s brother, Tom (Michael Dorman), who informs her that Adrian left her $5 million.
Which is when the weirdness starts happening.
Cecilia can’t shake the feeling she is being watched or there is another presence in the room with her. Blankets get pulled off her in the middle of the night, doors open and lights flicker, then the bottle of Diazepam she used to drug Adrian appears on her bathroom counter.
Of course, when Cecilia suggests that her husband faked his own death, found a way to make himself invisible, and is harassing her, no one believes her, thinking this is just PTSD from the years of abuse. Even when she tells them, “He said that wherever I went, he would find me, walk right up to me, and I wouldn’t be able to see him,” the thought of an invisible person tormenting her is too much for people to believe.
When this specter starts actively ruining Cecilia’s life—sabotaging a job interview, sending hateful emails, hitting Sydney, and more . .and worse—Cecilia decides she has to get proactive.
Filmed on the paltry budget of just $7 million, Man is not an effects-laden film, but is propelled by Moss’s terrific acting and some interesting camerawork. Often, the lens will slowly travel to an unoccupied part of a room and just . . . linger there. “Is something there?” “Are we supposed to be seeing something?” “Is something going to happen?” This adds to the tension of many scenes, as you are left hanging with this will it?/won’t it? stress that keeps you engaged.
With many “horror” films, you are shown the subject of the nightmare fairly early. Take Pennywise the Clown from It. From the very beginning, we know what he looks like (at least in his preferred form), and seeing him/It takes away some of that fear because it is now a known. Once we see the boogie man, we can process it and deal with it. But when you don’t, or in this case can’t, see the thing that is haunting you, it becomes all the more terrifying. Is it there, right next to me? Is it waiting just in the other room? The sense that it can pop out literally at any moment from anywhere heightens the suspense and adds to the jump-scare factor.
One of the classic tropes of films involving invisible men is the classic shower scene—unseen man sneaks into the shower and creepily watches young girl(s) showering. I’m happy to say that Whannell avoids that, and the film is certainly better for not stooping to that level.
Shot on Arriraw at 4.5 K resolution, Man is sourced from a true 4K digital intermediate. While images are clean and detailed throughout, I found them to be of the “softer” variety, looking more film-like rather than digital. Long shots didn’t have that razor-sharp quality of some transfers. Closeups certainly retain a ton of detail, with the tight shots on Moss revealing every ounce of emotion and every subtle inflection in her gaze, along with every pore, line, hair, and blotch. We can also appreciate fine fabric detail, such as the weave texture on Cecilia’s pillowcase.
The color palette is often on the dreary side with exterior shots, with even an early shot of the Golden Gate Bridge appearing in a blue-grey misty morning pan. Interiors often have a slick-modern silvery blue-grey look as well.
There are many dark scenes in the film, and HDR is used nicely to give extra pop to bright lighting throughout, whether the lights in the darkened house Cecilia escapes at the beginning, the gleaming overhead fluorescents of Adrian’s work space, or piercing flashlight beams. Beyond just the added brightness, images look incredibly natural with lots of depth and black-level
When watching It, I discovered just how much a creative audio mix can heighten a horror movie, adding to the tension and awareness of what is happening by having subtle little audio cues emanate from a full 360-degree soundfield. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack here does a great job of immersing you in the onscreen action. From the opening moments, where massive waves roll in overhead to powerfully crash on rocks against the front wall, you are in the action, and audio is used in sudden jarringly loud and dynamic moments to keep you on edge.
As you move about throughout quiet scenes, there are the subtle sounds of wind howling outside, the buzz of fluorescent lights, the sounds of air blowing through a gently rattling HVAC register, or the creaking and swaying of tree limbs and branches. Inside, you hear audio cues of doors creaking open, footsteps treading on wooden floors, or the buzz of a silenced cellphone over your head. There is also a pouring rainstorm that pelts water into your room, with the sound of heavy droplets splashing overhead.
The musical score by Benjamin Wallfisch Chamber is also appropriately tense. It features Christopher Egan conducting the Orchestra of London, and there are
several moments, such as the opening “Escape” or the song “Attack,” that have an ominous, almost alien-sounding quality as they blare loud electronic bass-heavy notes from all around.
When I can’t take my eyes off the screen long enough to jot down a viewing note, I know the film is intense and engaging. The Invisible Man might be treading through mostly familiar territory, but it does it with first-rate acting and a quality audio mix. And there aren’t too many horror films that can garner Rotten Tomatoes critics’ ratings of 91 and Audience Scores of 88. If you’re looking for a movie that offers a bit of edge along with a couple of good scares, The Invisible Man makes for a fun night in your home theater.
Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at
@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.