If you’ve never seen James Whale’s 1933 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, that’s definitely a must-see before or after the new version (as I’d recommended at the start of the year). Other sequels and parodies are also worth watching to varied enjoyment (see our ranking of everything from The Invisible Woman to Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man). Leigh Whannell‘s remake is the direct descendant of a classic and is part of a legacy of one of Hollywood’s most famous horror properties. But there are many more ingredients at work this time.
This edition of Movies to Watch After… recognizes the direct and indirect cinematic roots of the 2020 version of The Invisible Man as I recommend fans go back and learn some film history, become more well-rounded viewers, and enjoy likeminded works of the past, even if it’s the fairly recent past (and in some instances not enjoy but still learn about some relevant junk). As always, I try to point you in the easiest direction of where to find each of these highlighted titles.
Firstly, as more moviegoers discover the talents of writer/director Leigh Whannell with his take on The Invisible Man, I recommend checking out his underseen gem from two years ago. This was not his feature directorial debut, but it was his first chance to break from the ongoing properties he’d been attached to as co-creator of James Wan’s Saw and Insidious franchises. Upgrade is, unlike the Insidious sequel he’d helmed and The Invisible Man, an original idea. Unfortunately (and to some degree, fortunately), Upgrade came out the same year as Venom, to which it has some coincidental as well as uncanny similarities.
Also produced by Blumhouse, the sci-fi movie concerns a man enhanced with cybernetic implants following a tragedy. He’s not only able to miraculously walk again but with the help from an AI inside his body he’s now an amazing fighter and a walking computer. Upgrade isn’t just on here because it’s also by Whannell but because it connects thematically with its implausible science project of a wealthy asshole tech innovator (another good fit for this theme is Ex Machina, which is also about a rich scientist who wants a woman he can own and control) and also sets up the filmmaker’s gift for action combined with horror.
The Mummy (2017)
Universal’s first and last entry in their attempted Dark Universe mega-franchise is a ridiculous affair. And should definitely be watched after the new Invisible Man as a reminder of what we could have gotten instead. Not that Whannell’s movie isn’t filled with its own awful logic and other script problems, but its tone is a little more grounded, thanks to a limited budget ($7 million compared to the reported range of $125-195 million) and especially Elisabeth Moss‘ performance. Her fellow Scientologist Tom Cruise does not have that sort of dramatic restraint, at least not in The Mummy.
Never mind the bigger budget that might have come with the Dark Universe version of The Invisible Man, which was to star Johnny Depp in the title role; it was also the broader acting style, which extended to Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde portrayal here that would have made the difference. But at least with Cruise, that’s what we fans of his enjoy a lot of the time. Like Moss for hers, Cruise is mainly what makes his movie what it is. The Dark Universe version of The Mummy isn’t scary or even very thrilling but it’s often entertaining.
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Crime After Crime (2011) and Private Violence (2014)
For a true look at domestic violence and what women must endure before men are punished — if they ever are — this week I’m spotlighting two documentary picks. The first one, Yoav Potash’s Crime After Crime, is about a woman who has been in prison for two decades for the death of her abusive boyfriend. Her case has been reopened, and she’s being defended pro bono by two young attorneys, who are the primary characters of the film. Obviously, the abuse victim is guilty of murder, like Moss’ character at the end of The Invisible Man, and she deserved some time behind bars, but not as much as she got. Right? The circumstances are easier to accept as absolution for a vengeful woman in a movie than by the justice system.
The second documentary, Cynthia Hill’s Private Violence, is a Sundance award-winning, Emmy-nominated look at the issue of domestic abuse through the work of victim-turned-advocate Kit Gruelle and the case of Deanna Walters. The latter was kidnapped by her ex-husband, along with her daughter, and beaten almost to death. Yet he wasn’t initially arrested for the crime. Much of the point of the doc is to answer why women don’t just leave such relationships and situations. Why don’t they tell anyone is another question. The Invisible Man depicts the story of a woman who just barely manages to leave but still doesn’t feel safe in body or mind, and few understand. Because abusers do tend to go unseen in their crimes, as if they’re invisible.
Hollow Man (2000)
Invisible Man movies have historically been about the person who becomes invisible. Whannell’s version flips the switch and follows the invisible character’s victim, turning the story into a vehicle for a social issue metaphor appropriate for a new era inspired by the #MeToo movement. But 20 years before the remake tackled the idea of making a grittier, more violent, and more thought-provoking adaptation of The Invisible Man, audacious filmmaker Paul Verhoeven gave us Hollow Man, starring Kevin Bacon as the subject of an experiment that leaves him permanently see-through.
The condition drives him crazy (imagine not being able to close your eyes, which would make it almost impossible to sleep) but also allows him to be an even worse creep than ever, to the point that he even rapes a woman he’s already been shown to be voyeuristically infatuated with. Verhoeven means for us to be aligned somewhat with Bacon’s character as a voyeuristic spectator but then takes us to the extreme point of what such invasion entails. I consider Hollow Man a kind of necessary update on and answer to the seemingly innocent pervy comedies of the past, like 1985’s School Spirit, which is about horny ghosts who, due to their invisibility, spy on women in the locker room and undress women in their sleep, all for the gaze of the audience.
Sleeping with the Enemy (1991)
There are other thrillers out there about women having their revenge on abusive men, but Sleeping with the Enemy is the queen of them all. It also follows roughly the same plot as the new Invisible Man remake. Julia Roberts stars as a woman who flees her abusive home — she’s the one who fakes her own death here, while the abusive boyfriend does so in The Invisible Man — and then the guy comes after her, violently. But not in an invisibility suit. Spoiler: she shoots him dead in self-defense as if he’s just some home invader and not her ex, just as Moss’ character does at the end of the new movie.
Thanks to the plot of The Invisible Man being so similar, minus the addition of a new love interest for the woman (most scripts would have had Moss wind up with Aldis Hodge), we probably don’t need the official remake of Sleeping with the Enemy that’s been in development at Fox Searchlight with Candyman reboot director Nia DaCosta at the helm. Of course, we already basically got a remake in 2017 with ‘Til Death Do Us Part, which follows literally the same plot, also without an invisibility suit, as the much more successful 1991 film.
When Whannell is done with whatever he does with the Escape from New York reboot, give him the Predator franchise. We’ve seen three installments since the 1987 original — plus two cross-overs with Alien (whose own original protagonist has been compared to Moss’) — and none of them have captured the essence of the first movie as much as the new Invisible Man does. Predator is about an invisible (or well-camouflaged) alien for most of the plot, but his cloaking system is disabled near the end and Arnold Schwarzenegger gets to fight him more fairly. He doesn’t go in and out of visibility, like the villain of The Invisible Man when his suit is stabbed, but the action is similarly tighter and more intimate, even when the invisible man is taking out psyche hospital guards like he’s the Terminator.
Perhaps Whannell’s knack for this cat and mouse kind of action will be suited for other movies, including the Escape from New York remake, but it’s also just what we want from a lot of franchises now. Hollywood has gone for the bigger and more effects-driven sequels for not Predator and even the Universal Monsters brand, but what’s working best is the tighter, cheaper takes like Whannell’s The Invisible Man, which script issue aside does aim for character and story over spectacle. And yet there are also just enough great visual effects tricks to keep things interesting.
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman (1958)
The Invisible Man isn’t the first feminist horror movie, but the praise around it makes it seem like that’s the case. Even if the elevated appreciation is because the remake changes things up so much as to lean toward advocating for women and for victims of abuse, it’s still not the first horror remake to approach a familiar story through a more feminist lens. Christopher Guest’s made-for-cable 1993 version of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman aims for such a reimagining. The camp redo makes its metaphoric message tied to size similar to the way Jane Wagner and Lily Tomlin’s 1981 comedy (by way of Joel Schumacher’s direction) The Incredible Shrinking Woman does, only in the opposite direction.
However, the truth is that the shlocky original already has enough of a feminist foundation worthy of consideration. The B-movie is hardly a display of great filmmaking craft, and unfortunately, its beginning and especially its ending are more punishing of its main character, who is portrayed as a mentally unstable drunk. Still, this woman is an abused and disrespected woman whose husband cheats on her, tries to keep her locked up in an asylum, and plans to kill her to make off with her large inheritance. She has a right to be vengeful, despite societal stereotyping of angry women back then, and use her increased size against those who’ve wronged her. The ending of the remake is a little more fun, but the original still feels more likely.
In addition to being relevant to the #MeToo movement, the new Invisible Man has a contemporary significance for the way it deals with gaslighting. While the term has become widely appropriated by the political media when discussing broad manipulation by government and other officials (rather than just calling them liars), to gaslight is a more directly personal sort of control through confusion that originates with this classic film by George Cukor. Adapted from the play Gas Light by Patrick Hamilton, the movie stars Ingrid Bergman as a woman being made to think herself crazy by a husband messing with their home’s lighting system.
Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse inflicted on women in order to keep them subservient to and/or dependent on their manipulative husbands. The new Invisible Man remake emphasizes the idea by having Moss’ character committed to a psychiatric hospital after her ex, cloaked by a special suit, makes her out to feel and then seem to others to be mentally unstable. Some of the guy’s tricks could be done without the power of invisibility, such as when he removes her work samples from her portfolio after she’s sure she added them, which plays with her mind. He’s also very good at making her seem violent in front of others without the “magic” of what he’s doing being noticed.
As has been noted in our other coverage of the film, this Invisible Man is different than past adaptations in that it’s not about the transformation of its title character. He’s already a terrible human being before going invisible. He’s already a master gaslighter. He probably would have been a murderer. The invisibility suit just elevates his means of acting on all of it.