Before the dreaded invention of the internet and the wretched, faceless avatars that populate it, the Invisible Man franchise revealed the transformative villainy of anonymity. Baked into author H.G. Wells‘ core concept is the idea that when stripped of their identity but still fully engorged on ego, men will flaunt their barbarous selves. The Wolf Man is a curse. Frankenstein’s monster is a pathetic beast who should not be. Dracula is a creature of the night. The Invisible Man is an asshole.
For the 2020 iteration (that’s number six in the Universal series, hollow men and their memoirs not included), writer/director Leigh Whannell updates the mad descent of wickedness into the body of an abuser who clearly didn’t need any push into a murderous state. Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is introduced as a physical threat to Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) as he comes screaming out of the woods and thrusts himself through her sister’s car window while she’s attempting to flee in secret. He’s a very real terror. His eventual invisibility doesn’t accentuate his horror, but hers.
We’re told that two weeks after their roadside encounter, Griffin has slashed his wrists and left Cecilia with a $5 million inheritance. His spineless brother Tom (Michael Dorman), who also represents his estate, explains that she’ll get the money in monthly increments as long as she is not declared mentally unfit or is convicted of a felony. We’re watching an Invisible Man movie, so we know the score.
Most of the film sees Cecilia begging others to believe her. Adrian is alive. He’s invisible. He’s the source of all the weird shenanigans going on in the home of her friend James (Aldis Hodge). Then James’ daughter Sydney (Storm Reid) is punched bloody. Cecilia’s sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) has her throat cut. Cecelia is dumped into the psychiatric criminal ward.
With limited options and no one on her side, Cecilia takes matters into her own hands — or wrists, as the case may be. Knowing that the narcissistic creatin cares only for the child growing inside her, she draws Adrian into the light by digging into her veins with a fountain pen. A fight ignites, guards are called, guards are murdered, an escape is made, and a mad dash to Sydney’s house erupts.
There, Cecilia claims her victory by blasting five bullets into the beast’s chest. The Invisible Man goes down like his OG pre-code predecessor, full of holes. Only, it’s not the terror we were led to believe him to be. The man in Adrian’s sci-fi suit is the jellyfish brother. Adrian, the abuser, is found imprisoned behind a wall, bound and gagged, apparently a victim himself. Cecilia is free of all charges; she only needs to admit that Adrian wasn’t pulling the strings after all.
Adrian is guilty. She’s an expert in his manipulation. It’s where his true genius rests. He bends reality around his will. She will not fall for it, nor will she admit it.
Cecilia has experienced a lifetime of eye-rolls and quizzical glances. She won’t take the doubt of others any longer. She doesn’t have to wait for their belief. She knows what she knows. Adrian is guilty, and he will not walk away from this cruelty unscathed.
As a favor to James, Cecilia goes through the motions of trying to capture Adrian’s guilt on tape, but he won’t budge on the story he’s concocted. At his home, where the cameras can see them enjoying a friendly dinner, Adrian lays all the blame on Tom, acting aghast at her accusations. She never considered it could go any other way. Time to fight fire with fire.
She excuses herself for the restroom but goes to the closet where she previously stowed Adrian’s other invisibility suit. Doing to him what he did to her sister, Cecilia takes his knife and puts it in his hand and drags them both across his throat. The camera sees suicide. We know better. We see justice.
We’re a proof-driven society. We need to see it to believe it. However, we often only see what we want to see. The world must fit into the definitions we ascribe to it. Invisibility suits? That’s crazy! Wait, they exist? Huh. It turns out you were right about that one Cecilia, but no way you could be right about the puppet master Adrian. That’s a bridge too far.
The Invisible Man does what all good remakes should do. Whannell takes a strand from the book, and James Whale’s 1933 adaptation, and applies it to a fear plaguing a contemporary audience. The beast is not the protagonist. We’re not here to empathize with him. We’ve done enough of that already. His prey should be our concern.
We need to stop being surprised. When woman after woman after woman after woman arrives with accusations of atrocity, we need to press pause and reckon with their words. Monsters exist. Start listening.
Cecilia couldn’t wait for those around her to find belief. She could only place her faith in herself. She knew the truth. She couldn’t and shouldn’t wait for society to catch up with her knowledge. Satisfaction sat in her hands. The rest of us should be ashamed. Our disbelief and refusal to listen is our culpability, and it aligns us with monsters. Who’s the asshole, now?