Revisiting ‘The Invisible Man’ and Oscar’s complicated history with horror

It’s no secret that the horror genre is the least awarded genre at the Academy Awards. There have been a number of snubs throughout history, including Toni Colette in “Hereditary,” Lupita Nyong’o in “Us,” “The Shining,” and many of Alfred Hitchcock’s films. Will Universal’s “The Invisible Man” defy the curse of horror films at the Oscars?

Of those that triumph, many are limited to the below-the-line categories, like “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” and “Sleepy Hollow” for Art Direction, “Jaws” for Film Editing, Sound and Original Score, “Alien” for Visual Effects and “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” for Costume Design, Makeup and Sound Effects. Acting wins have favored women four out of six times and only three films have ever won for Screenplay, including “The Exorcist” and “Get Out.” “The Silence of the Lambs” is the only horror film to have won the top Best Picture prize and one of only three in history to have won the Big Five (Picture, Director, Screenplay and both Lead acting categories).

So why is there such a disconnect between this genre and Academy voters? In short, scare tactics appeal to a niche audience but can feel gimmicky and unrefined to a wider voting body. Many of the films above attract wider attention by presenting as dramas, the genre that accounts for almost 90% of Best Picture wins, with horror elements; critics would label this “psychological thriller.” Apart from genre, timely films with political themes, i.e. social class structure or race disparity, are another sure fire way to success. Recent films like “Get Out,” “Parasite,” and “The Shape of Water” have used both of these methods to strike gold.

A worthy addition to this list would be “The Invisible Man,” a film that navigates genre and story to thrilling results and critical praise. Elisabeth Moss plays Cecelia, who after escaping her controlling, abusive ex-boyfriend is further gaslit by him into appearing like she’s causing her own psychosis. The film presents a necessary discussion of sexism and domestic abuse within a world where invisible tech, much like social media, is literally and figuratively used to surveil, threaten and violate Cecelia. By interviewing domestic violence counselors and victims in order to integrate real-life stories, the writer-director, Leigh Whannell, has helped create an important companion piece to the #MeToo movement.

While the film’s best shot at an Oscar is in the Visual Effects category, viewers have already proved it to be a hit. Its opening weekend of $28.2 million, which has grown to a worldwide box office of $130 million, has heavily outweighed its $7 million budget. Also, it currently sits fifth atop the highest grossing domestic in-year releases for 2020. Universal Pictures and Blumhouse Productions, who have been attached since signing a ten-year deal in 2014, have seen other successes this year alone, including the recently released “Freaky,” which has surpassed its $6 million budget in two weekends with a worldwide box office of $9.2 million. Their next releases include “The Forever Purge” and “Halloween Kills,” both of which have been delayed until mid-to-late 2021 due to the pandemic.

“The Invisible Man” is currently available on HBO Max.

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