Back in 2000, director Paul Verhoeven couldn’t hide the fact that his homage to the classic 1933 thriller “The Invisible Man” starring Claude Rains in his first American screen appearance lived up to its title — namely, “Hollow Man” was indeed hollow, man. Kevin Bacon just couldn’t quite pull off the modern-day version based on H.G. Wells’ classic novel about a man who is chosen as the first person to try out an invisibility serum and ends up going on a killing spree.
But the version of the tale that officially opens February 28 is a 21st-century update that has been getting surprisingly strong reviews, with a 91% positive score on Rotten Tomatoes and 70 ranking on Metascore. Many critics credit the film’s success to a fully committed performance by Elisabeth Moss of TV’s “Mad Men” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” as well as the ability of writer-director Leigh Whannell (co-creator of the “Saw” and “Insidious” horror franchises) to creep out the audience with a tale that expresses capitalizes on the fears of the #MeToo era.
The plot basics? Moss is a Bay Area architect who stages a desperate midnight escape from the house she shares with her abusive tech-mogul billionaire boyfriend (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who treats her like a captive. She is taken in by an old friend and his daughter and appears to be on more stable ground. But then freakish things start happening to her, such as a skillet that suddenly catches fire and somehow getting punched in the nose.
Among the reviewers who gave the re-do a glowing review is Leah Greenblatt of Entertainment Weekly, as she singles out Moss for praise: “A lot of the story’s grip-hold is owed to Moss’s performance: raw, jittery, almost unbearably tensed, she’s a woman whose own body is a prison, as long as her ex walks around without one.”
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone praises the talent behind the camera as well: “For a movie to send out a blast of bone-chilling, pulse-pounding terror peppered with psychological insights, it needs virtuosity in every department. And that’s what Whannell gets from cinematographer Stefan Duscio (‘Upgrade’), production designer Alex Holmes (‘The Babadook’), and composer Benjamin Wallfisch (‘Blade Runner 2049’).”
As for Pete Hammond of Deadline, he praises Whannell’s unique way of making the story reflect the current state of our society: “So what is the trick? Tell it from the point of view of the victim, who happens to be a woman. In the #MeToo age it is a deceptively brilliant, not to mention smart, idea. Trying to reboot the original, wonderful as Claude Rains was, with the invisible man’s bandaged look would not cut it with today’s sophisticated technology. But what Whannell has come up with instead is constantly surprising, full of twists and actually quite credible believe it or not.”
Alison Willmore at Vulture is a bit more nit-picky as she opines, ” ‘The Invisible Man’ is not as smart as it could have been, but the concept is ingenious even if the execution gets slapdash. And with Moss at the center, it doesn’t matter all that much — she sells what’s approached as B-movie material with the unwavering dedication of someone starring in a prestige biopic.”
Given that the the movies that come out during the early months of any year are rarely the cream of the crop, it sounds as if “The Invisible Man” is likely the scream-fest of the crop.
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