The classic universal horror monsters, most adapted from Victorian Novels, are all viable for updates. The fears that they represent, of the unknown, of the past, of man’s curiosity, have not disappeared but have transformed. This was what Universal needed to grasp to successfully capitalise on its catalogue and in Leigh Whannel and Blumhouse they have found a saviour.
(Elizabeth Moss) has fled her abusive boyfriend only to find herself still trapped by fear. She sees him around every corner and hears his footsteps wherever she goes. The relief she feels at the news of his suicide ultimately does little to reassure her. She still feels that he is somehow close-by, watching.
Invisibility is the superpower of choice for the voyeur. Previous depictions of male protagonists gaining this power will typically include sequences (often played for laughs) in which they spy on women in compromising situations. The female perspective is often overlooked and is truly horrifying. This film successfully captures the horrible sense of violation and paranoia that knowing someone with this power would induce.
The Victorian monster has been very successfully placed into a modern context. His narcissism and cruelty make all too much sense in the world of oligarchs. Making Celine the hero and Griffin an abusive partner helps justify the silly premise as a parable of PTSD. Celine is haunted by the spectre if her malevolent boyfriend, an anxiety that is all too relatable.
Elizabeth Moss delivers a brilliantly nuanced performance as Celine. Though the marketing for the film highlighted her most bug-eyed moments of lunacy, she actually plays fragile, unstable and eventually vengeful superbly. Other characters are somewhat thinner, really just intended to echo Celine’s anxieties back to her. Allies are willing to abandon her a little too quickly and of course, her pursuer is an irredeemable monster. But whilst this seems a little unreal, it feels authentic to the experience of abuse.
If Universal can similarly translate their classic monsters into modern thrillers without resorting to the ludicrous dream of aping the MCU with Frankenstein and friends, then perhaps we’re in for a treat as the monsters, once again, come out to play. In any case, The Invisible Man comfortably stands alone as a superbly effective horror film.