PLOT A brilliant inventor uses an invisibility suit to stalk his ex-girlfriend.
CAST Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Harriet Dyer
RATED R (strong violence)
BOTTOM LINE A slow-moving thriller with too many blank spaces.
In the tense opening scene of "The Invisible Man," Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss, "The Handmaid's Tale") carries out an elaborate escape from the mansion-cum-prison of her controlling boyfriend, the brilliant inventor Adrian Griffin. When she hears later that Adrian has killed himself, Cecilia can finally relax — until one night she realizes he's standing, unseen, right in front of her. With no proof but her own senses, Cecilia's explanation that Adrian has figured out a way to become invisible seems like a guaranteed ticket to a psych ward.
Writer-director Leigh Whannell brings a potentially topical twist to H.G. Wells' 1897 novel by envisioning an abused woman as the heroine of "The Invisible Man." Cecilia feels like a symbol of the #MeToo movement, a woman whose story is constantly dismissed as crazy talk by everyone, including a good-hearted cop (Aldis Hodge) and her own sister (a prickly Harriet Dyer). For Whannell, a creator of the "Saw" franchise, this movie offers another departure from the horror genre, following his excellent sci-fi flick "Upgrade." For Universal, it's an unofficial entry in its rebooted Classic Monsters series, following 2017's execrable "The Mummy."
"The Invisible Man" is a disappointment on nearly every front, however, save for Moss' deep-digging performance as Cecilia. It's paced slowly, like a psychological thriller, which it isn't, since nobody's motives are in doubt. It hinges on a wildly fanciful premise — a barely-explained invisibility suit — yet goes mostly for low-key special effects. And although Whannell is a smart screenwriter, handy with a twist and turn, "The Invisible Man" rarely delivers the shocks and jolts it promises.
"The Invisible Man" recalls "Hollow Man," Paul Verhoeven's 2000 version of the story, starring Kevin Bacon. Both movies start strong but devolve into a series of increasingly violent pranks on the part of the invisible villain. In neither movie do we understand what makes him tick; in fact, we don’t really see Cecilia's tormentor (Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Adrian) until the very end. That trick worked in the 1933 film, still a perverse classic, thanks to Claude Rains' wonderfully nasty vocal performance. Here, the silent Adrian never feels like a real person.
To his credit, Whannell completely avoids any creepy voyeurism or easy titillation. Moss' Cecilia never loses her dignity, even when being pummeled by thin air.
H.G. Wells wasn't the first person to wonder what havoc an invisible being might wreak, and he wouldn't be the last. Here are four other films that have fun with the idea of the unseen:
THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI (1966) The last "beach-party" film from American International Pictures starred Susan Hart as a curvaceous dead girl haunting a mansion overrun by teenagers, bikers, a gorilla and Nancy Sinatra. Don't get excited, daddy-o – the bikini is visible.
PREDATOR (1987) Arnold Schwarzenegger and a gang of tough-guy actors battle invisible aliens in the jungle. Preposterous but wildly entertaining, the movie spawned three sequels (plus two crossover films with the "Alien" franchise).
GHOST (1990) The spirit of a dead guy (Patrick Swayze) must save his girlfriend (Demi Moore) from a scheming villain (Tony Goldwyn). A massive hit, much parodied for its sexy-pottery-wheel scene.
HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE (2001) In the first film of the franchise, young Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) receives the gift of an invisibility cloak, becoming the envy of his friends. Such cloaks date back at least to ancient Greek myth, which may explain why the "Star Trek" creators didn't sue. — RAFER GUZMAN