Sometimes filmmakers and/or film lovers sit down to talk about the movie they’re watching, and it’s called a commentary. Sometimes our Rob Hunter listens to that commentary and shares the most interesting and entertaining parts. Welcome to Commentary Commentary!
Leigh Whannell has moved fairly smoothly from Australian dude to actor to screenwriter to director, and the result has been a ton of fun to watch. He’s an entertaining guy with a talent for delivering both laughs and thrills, and with his latest directorial effort, he’s also delivered a big hit both commercially and critically. The Invisible Man takes the familiar tale into new directions, and Whannell finds a lot of bang for his buck. Thankfully for fans and amateur filmmakers alike, the film’s now available on 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray/DVD and includes a commentary, so keep reading to see what I heard on the track for…
The Invisible Man (2020)
Commentator: Leigh Whannell (writer/director)
1. He has lost “a little bit” of interest in seeing movies in theaters because audiences have become too brazen in their chatting and phone use during the film, but “having said all that I’m going to talk over this entire movie.”
2. As a fan of opening title sequences, he wanted this film to feature titles that are simple yet still speak volumes about the film itself. The one here — waves crashing against the rocks briefly showing the titles before they drip away — came to him on-set, and he soon discovered that water is the most difficult thing to get right with CG.
3. The film starts with a close-up of Cecilia’s (Elisabeth Moss) face as she opens her eyes “which is important!” He adds that it will pay off “much later.”
4. The opening sequence originally had original music written for it, but Whannell and the sound design team felt it worked better with silence and the sound of the crashing waves.
5. He enjoys weaponizing an audience’s knowledge of movies against them, and the opening sequence is filled with examples where viewers expect things that don’t happen. This includes everything from mirror scares to Adrian’s (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) eyes opening.
6. The house interiors are made up of four different actual houses. Adrian’s bedroom, for example, is actually a living room in a house in Sydney.
7. He chose not to have an opening establishing Cecilia’s predicament with Adrian “because I wanted to just drop the audience into Cecilia’s situation without any back story and make them feel everything through her, and luckily I had Elisabeth Moss who is very good at communicating a lot to the audience without saying anything.”
8. Pine trees aren’t native to Australia, which is where the movie was filmed, so the sequence where Cecilia runs into the night amid the pine trees was actually shot at a plantation where they’re grown for furniture and Christmas trees. “If the sun was up you would see that these pine trees are planted in really neat rows, not natural at all.”
9. He chooses this commentary to admit to Moss that the plantation was filled with funnel-web spiders. “But you didn’t get bitten, so I’m assuming now it’s not a litigious thing. You’re fine. Maybe one hitched a ride in your suitcase, and you’ve now introduced funnel web spiders to North America. That’s gonna be bad, Lizzie.”
10. Finding Australian locations that could pass for the United States seemed easy on paper, “but life is not lived on paper, my friends.” James’ (Aldis Hodge) suburban house was especially difficult to find. “Everything in Australia is subtly different,” he says adding that they even had to have a mailbox sent over from the US.
11. “Not only is Aldis a very handsome fellow, he’s also one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.” He goes on to list Hodge’s numerous attributes including his talent, his intelligence, his technical illustrations of his own watch designs, and more. “I’m just going to list off his good qualities until everyone listening to this commentary realizes that it’s really unfair the whole Aldis Hodge situation. Nobody is supposed to be that perfect in real life. And I’m angry about it.”
12. Cecilia’s sister, Emily (Harriet Dyer), was referred to as Alice in numerous reviews for the film, and Whannell doesn’t know why or where that came from. I’m curious as well as I did just that in my own review of the film. “It’s a mystery on the same level as Jack the Ripper as far as I’m concerned.”
13. He suggests, not incorrectly, that tip one in making a great movie is to cast amazing actors. “I discovered on the set that great actors can improve the script so much.”
14. The kitchen table scene around the 16:20 mark was originally ten minutes longer “because I had written so much dialogue.” He discovered while working with editor Andy Canny — “he’s Australian so he’s not afraid to tell me exactly what he thinks” — that the actors were so good that much of the dialogue became unnecessary.
15. The character of Adrian’s brother, Tom (Michael Dorman), is meant to feel as if nothing about him fits, and that’s made literal in his costume. His suits are a couple of sizes too small to complete that subtle image, and Dorman loved it.
16. The scene where Cecilia gifts James with a new ladder is one of Whannell’s favorites as it’s a rare moment where everyone, including Cecilia, is truly happy. I still laugh because she just got $100k and gives this guy a freaking ladder, but Whannell’s point is valid. “She doesn’t get to be happy much in this movie,” he adds, and to that I agree as evidenced by my tweet after seeing the film back in February.
Who will be the brave hero who casts Elisabeth Moss in a fun, happy comedy about a well adjusted woman in a loving relationship or maybe she’s single but either way she’s feeling pretty great about herself and life in general.
— FakeRobHunter (@FakeRobHunter) February 12, 2020
17. He likes to think about the “cinematic language” of a film while writing the script, and for this movie that meant thinking about what the camera is doing that could be unique. “What I decided is that the camera should move away from the actors as if it had a mind of its own as if it knew more than the characters did.”
18. The locked wide shot starting at 25:31 led to some crew members questioning Whannell’s lack of coverage, but he thinks filmmakers should stick to their guns if they have a plan and a vision. “You have to lean into what’s different about your project.” This shot is him suggesting that there’s someone in the room that we can’t see. Is he actually there? Maybe. Maybe not.
19. The bedroom scene starting at 32:04 with Cecilia and Sydney (Storm Reid) sleeping was a pick-up shot filmed in Toronto after wrapping in Australia meaning the set decoration had to be shipped to Canada. The first test screening led “the legendary” Jason Blum to ask if Whannell wanted to do any re-shoots. Whannell’s response was to redo the sequence where Cecilia wakes up to the pictures being taken while she slept — the original version is glimpsed in the original trailer showing the phone floating in the air — “but I felt that the scene could be more tense.”
20. Whannell suffers from crew jealousy when his associates move on to other projects. “I don’t want to see my ex-girlfriend having brunch with her new boyfriend, thank you very much.”
21. The scene where Cecilia goes for the job interview features two callbacks of sorts to Whannell’s previous film, Upgrade (2018). Benedict Hardie plays the architect after playing Fisk in the earlier film. And second, Whannell’s wanted to lock the camera to Moss when she faints which is a similar technique used in Upgrade. The problem, though, was that they didn’t have the same camera rig, so they had to do it analog style with cinematographer Stefan Duscio simply moving in sync with her to the floor.
22. The post-shower sequence originally included a shot of a handprint on the shower door — yes, the very shot used in both the trailer and the Blu-ray/DVD cover art — but they removed it as he felt Cecilia’s discovery of the pill bottle was chilling enough.
23. He’s worked with extremely talented actors before, “but working with Elisabeth was just a revelation for me. She can do anything.”
24. Whannell had told Duscio that this horror movie would feature plenty of light as an invisible man doesn’t need to hide in the darkness, “and he kind of groaned with pain” because cinematographers love darkness. The attic scene is a “little gift” that he gave to Duscio, and they lit it with just that flashlight.
25. That reminds him of the first Saw (2004) film when the production designer called him and asked why the cops would have “torches” while searching the sewer. “And that’s when I realized that Americans don’t use the word torches, they say flashlights.”
26. The attic scene originally saw Cecilia finding more than just the phone, knife (that she inexplicably pulls from the plastic bag to get her prints on), and portfolio — “she found food that he’d been eating, she found a little stack of her clothes including her underwear” — and some of it is still visible in the corner at 55:01 and in the shot that follows. He doesn’t mention the impracticality of this whole sequence — you’ve established a ladder is needed to get up there, so how is the invisible guy going up and down all the time? — which apparently bugs no one but me, but that’s fine.
27. He discovered through reviews that the film is a nightmare for trypophobics — people who have a fear of closely-packed holes — as the invisibility suit terrifies or disgusts them. “That’s not something I was planning for.”
28. “Nor did I have any idea that this scene you’re watching right now would be so goddamn difficult,” he says at the start of the epic kitchen fight sequence. It was the toughest scene to shoot due to choreography, motion control camera use, having to paint out the guy in the green full-body suit, digitally recreating some of Moss’s limbs, and stunt work. He thanks Moss, the fx company Cutting Edge, the stunt people, and more.
29. “Sidebar, I thought everybody would be so freaked out by this driver taking so long to do this turn,” he says at 1:01:05, “and nobody really was.” Wrong! It still makes me laugh at its ridiculousness.
30. The shot of the Golden Gate Bridge at 1:01:34 is real, but the focus car is CG. The following shot is again a real landscape and road but with a CG car. There are bigger effects in this movie, but this is pretty awesome.
31. “This shot here,” at 1:03:04, “is a little nod to Heat.” He appreciates Michael Mann’s “clean framing.”
32. The real invisibility suit is actually very difficult to fold up, so the shots of Cecilia carrying it is actually Moss just holding a balled-up wet-suit with a bit of the dotted texture draped across it.
33. The restaurant scene is “notorious” and surprisingly “brutal” by design. He wanted the audience to be caught off guard and accomplishes that with bright lights, a crowded locale, and the sister’s warming relationship. He doesn’t explain how Adrian gets Cecilia to catch the knife though — does he lift her arm and open her palm immediately after slicing Emily’s throat across the table? I just don’t see that catch being an instinctual grab.
34. The number of scenes featuring people talking led him to worry more than once that this was turning into “a Sundance movie about two people having a disagreement” instead of a genre film designed to keep people engaged and thrilled.
35. He resists the urge to discuss supposed plot holes called out by some critics and adds that “I don’t feel there are any plot holes in this movie. Well, guess what critics, I’ve got it all worked out in my head, so everything makes sense to me. If it didn’t make sense to you, too fucking bad!” This leads him to ponder whether the commentary is R-rated like the film itself.
36. The shot where Cecilia slices open her wrist with the pen is cut from the UK release as a graphic suicide attempt earns a film an 18 (or maybe R18) classification which is equivalent to an NC-17 here.
37. He had hoped that movie audiences would cheer when Cecilia stabs the invisible man with the pen, but while he was too lazy to attend every screening of the film he didn’t hear it at the ones he made it to. “If you heard a theater cheer during that scene please tweet me @LWhannell and let me know about the cheering.”
38. That’s Nash Edgerton at 1:32:05 as one of the guards. He’s a filmmaker in his own right (The Square, 2008) and emailed Whannell asking if he could visit the set “and die.”
39. Whannell is in The Matrix Reloaded (2003). This is where I remind you that this column is about things *I* learned while listening to the commentary.
40. There’s a Saw Easter Egg at 1:34:34 as the car’s headlights reveal graffiti of the film’s creepy puppet.
41. While some people think the tracking shot into James’ house around 1:35:10 is a POV of the invisible man it’s actually following him meaning we’re looking at his back. “But we can’t see him.”
42. Turns out fire extinguisher foam doesn’t actually cling to people, as it does in movies, meaning they had to use some visual effects.
43. To those wondering, because apparently some people have been, Tom only wears the suit that one time as he attacks James and Sydney. It’s Adrian the entire rest of the time.
44. The scene where Cecilia calls Adrian was another pick-up shot in Toronto after production had already wrapped.
45. Whannell flew to London to film a single line of dialogue from Adrian, “it’s the one where he says ‘that shouldn’t come as a surprise.'” He doesn’t detail why, but the inference is that he felt it would help the film’s coherence. Jackson-Cohen’s face had changed slightly, so they had to use digital touch-ups to match it.
46. He spends much of the end credits naming and thanking numerous below the line crew members while also explaining what some of these job titles actually mean.
47. He thanks the listeners to the commentary track — you’re welcome, Mr. Whannell! — and adds that he hopes listeners will be enlightened in some way and maybe go off to make their own film one day. “And I’ll be proud of you, and maybe you’ll be doing an interview with somebody and you’ll say ‘you know what was really inspiring? The audio commentary for The Invisible Man.’ And a tear will appear in my eye, ladies and gentlemen.”
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“Usually I hate it when people talk during a movie.”
“This is going to be like one of those mysteries where if you don’t pay attention to the paper clip it comes back later and you’ll regret not paying attention.”
“I love shots where things go from out of focus to into focus.”
“There’s gonna be a lot of shots in this movie of nothing.”
“The only thing that people will remember about your film… is the unique thing.”
“The fun part of filmmaking should be taking a risk, so my policy is if it’s making you nervous you’re on the right track.”
“The best thing I feel you can do in a horror film is to draw out the tension.”
“Some of us have to direct films and aren’t good with physical exercise.”
“There are no small roles, ladies and gentlemen, only small actors.”
“Certain producers were encouraging me to use stock footage, but I could not do that.”
“Guess what ladies and gentlemen, that scene was cut, yup, like Marie Antoinette’s head into a basket we sliced it out of the movie. Was that too soon?”
“I wish there was an Oscar category for beating yourself up on screen.”
“I wish there was a word for movie that rhymed with thespian.”
“It’s frustrating when other people are right.”
“Nothing will give sci-fi away faster than a cheap-looking set, a set that just doesn’t feel lived-in.”
“Sometimes when you’re shooting a movie a piece of string is your best friend.”
“The best visual effect in this movie is a close-up of Elisabeth Moss’ face.”
“On this day, there was no need for the man in the green suit.”
Now this is a goddamn commentary track! Funny, insightful, funny, engaging, funny, and filled with love for movies and the people who make them, Whannell’s commentary is easily among the best I’ve had the pleasure of listening to in ages. Hopeful filmmakers should most definitely give it a go as he talks about the process both on and off set and offers plenty of tips and thoughts that will undoubtedly help out future directors. As a reminder, this movie cost $7 million and looks like it could have easily cost four times that. Listen to this Australian man.
Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.