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Not that long ago, actor Johnny Depp was going to star in The Invisible Man, another entry in Universal’s would-be interconnected set of monster movies dubbed The Dark Universe. That obviously didn’t happen as the critical failure and commercial disappointment of Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy forced Universal to rethink its plans. But the studio didn’t write off these characters entirely and is instead now focusing on smaller, filmmaker driven approaches. We will see the first example of that with this weekend’s The Invisible Man.
Hailing from Upgrade writer-director Leigh Whannell, The Invisible Man stars Elisabeth Moss as Cecilia, a woman who, with the help of her sister and childhood friend, escapes her abusive ex, a brilliant and wealthy scientist. Things take a turn when he seemingly commits suicide, leaving her a large part of his fortune. Only Cecilia suspects that his death was a hoax and that he is now hunting her. The problem is that she can’t prove it because he’s invisible. So, how will the first post-Dark Universe movie fare?
The first reviews for The Invisible Man are in and while the titular character may be imperceptible to the naked eye, Leigh Whannell's film is a must-see. CinemaBlend's own Eric Eisenberg was really taken with the film, giving The Invisible Man 4.5 out of 5 stars in his review and saying:
At the heart of what makes The Invisible Man work as well as it does is an ingenious approach to the specific terror that the monster can inspire, and the way in which that approach is applied to a very zeitgeist-heavy story.
Eric really enjoyed what Leigh Whannell was able to do with his story without the constraints of an interconnected universe and found the director's approach to be smart, well-done and (most importantly) scary. Eric wasn't the only one who really liked The Invisible Man either as the majority of critics seem to have had a positive first view of the film. In his review, Variety's Owen Gleiberman highlighted how fun the movie is and its powerful message, writing:
The Invisible Man is devious fun, with a message that’s organic enough to hit home: that in a toxic relationship, what you see is what you get — but what gets to you is what you don’t see.
The Invisible Man may be invisible, but the message of the film about a woman in an abusive relationship whose gaslighting abuser now has the power of invisibility is plain to see. Many of the reviews for The Invisible Man highlight how well Leigh Whannell made a horror movie with a message that is actually important. The marvel of The Invisible Man seems to be that it does this while still telling a fun, scary story.
In his review of The Invisible Man,The Wrap's William Bibbiani hits on how masterfully Leigh Whannell achieves the film's aims, saying:
There’s no extraneous storytelling here, no scene that feels unnecessary, no scary moment that plays like it’s pandering. This is the expertly told, horrifying story of an abusive relationship filtered through the lens of a classic horror movie monster.
For audiences just looking to be entertained, I think there is a natural apprehension to movies with a message, even if they agree with it. People don't like to be pandered to and William's review indicates they should have nothing to worry about with The Invisible Man, which weaves its message into an taut and entertaining horror movie. Of course, universal consensus is hard to come by and not everyone loved The Invisible Man.
One of the lone critics who did not have a particularly positive view of The Invisible Man was IndieWire's Jude Dry who gave the film a D+ and wrote:
The best genre films play on society’s most pressing fears, but in his limp reworking of H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, Leigh Whannell tries melding everything from gaslighting to anxieties around data privacy into a crude technological thriller that is part sci-fi, part horror, and all-around mess.
So The Invisible Man didn't work for everyone. The large majority thus far though came away with a positive view, even those that saw the film as flawed. One such critic was The Guardian's Benjamin Lee, who gave The Invisible Man 3 out of 5 stars and wrote:
There’s fun to be had here, thanks to Moss and an involving set-up, and given the state of multiplex horror, especially at this time of year, this is a striking diversion. But Whannell gives us just enough to make us want more and despite the stretched 125-minute runtime, he can’t quite deliver what he loosely promises.
The start to this year has been a particularly brutal one for horror fans with multiple horror movies doing super poorly in reviews. That will not be the case for The Invisible Man, which has a lot to like including a predictably great performance from Elisabeth Moss. Lastly we have THR's Todd McCarthy, who notes the franchise potential of the film and praises Universal's new approach to its monster movies:
The Invisible Man was clearly made on a budget but when you place first importance on script and actors, viewers will feel it and not come out just remembering the scary parts. It’s not clear where a sequel to this would lead, but if Moss is on board the filmmakers will already be ahead of the game.
Starting with a good script and then adding credible talent might seem like a novel concept, but the puzzle pieces all fit together pretty well for The Invisible Man. Hopefully the rest of Universal's post-Dark Universe monster movies can follow suit and be just as successful.
So there you have it. The Invisible Man seems to have delivered the great Universal Monster movie that The Mummy (2017) and Dracula Untold could not. Right now The Invisible Man sits at 88% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 26 reviews. That score will obviously change as more reviews come in, but the current lay of the land indicates that Leigh Whannell's film is a critical success. Now we just have to see if the box office will reward that.
The Invisible Man opens in theaters on February 28. Check out our 2020 release schedule to see what other movies you can look forward to this year.