How Leigh Whannell Made “The Invisible Man” Scary Again

Between 2010’s The Wolfman, 2014’s Dracula Untold, and 2017’s The Mummy, Universal has tried (and failed) several times to launch what would be their “Dark Universe”.  And while Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible-inspired Mummy film seemed to be the nail in the coffin (no pun intended), Universal still eventually found success rebranding one of their old properties.

After Universal spent $200 million on a mediocre movie that reportedly failed to make a profit, The Invisible Man showed how it’s done by only costing $7 million and grossing 20x its budget!

And the reason is largely due to Leigh Whannell.  By making a perfectly crafted, well-acted, socially relevant, and legitimately tense/frightening standalone movie, Leigh Whannell showed everyone just how it’s done.  In my initial review of The Invisible Man back in February, I claimed that it was the best horror film of 2020 thus far.

That wasn’t saying much so early in the year (although none of us had any idea of what was about to happen in the world), however it’s a statement that still remains largely true.  So as many of us rediscover it following its premiere on HBO Max, let’s take a closer look at why The Invisible Man remains the best horror movie of 2020!

Shifting the Focus
Leigh Whannell reported that when he first met with Jason Blum regarding the upcoming project Blum told him that their primary goal was to make the titular Invisible Man scary again.  Most of the old Universal Horror characters have gone so mainstream and been parodied so many times that it’s difficult to take them seriously or find them frightening anymore.

No matter how many “scary” performances of Dracula that films portray, the character is forever linked to Leslie Nielsen’s comedic take, and it’s hard to get that out the minds of the collective audience.  So Whannell’s approach was to shift the Invisible Man from the protagonist to the antagonist of the story.

He’s a much scarier villain shrouded in the shadows and mystery.

He realized that no matter how disturbing a character he was, if we saw the story from his perspective it removes all the mystery, and that’s where the fear of him comes from.  It’s the reason why, despite his horrific actions, no one is actually scared of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.

Because he’s our narrator (albeit in unreliable one), we always know what he’s thinking and he never catches us off guard.  But by focusing on his wife and survivor of all his abuse, the story becomes much more tense because we sympathize with her and her fear of an abusive husband.

Tapping Into Real Fears
In many ways, The Invisible Man feels like a cultural response to the current era, following the MeToo movement.  Spousal abuse (both physical and psychological) is sadly a very real thing, and there’s been a necessary spotlight on it recently.

Even after escaping her husband Adrian, Cecelia (Elisabeth Moss) lives in constant fear that he will somehow find her.  His overly controlling and dominating nature has her even doubting that he’s actually dead when she receives the news.

It’s enough to make Cecelia (or any abuse survivor) question their own sanity and sense of reality.

Ultimately The Invisible Man becomes a physical manifestation and metaphor for the PTSD that many survivors of abuse tragically suffer from. Even long after they’ve become free of the abuse and the abuser, many still live with that fear.

Throwing Out All The Clichés
Leigh Whannell is known for always trying to subvert expectations.  He absolutely hates fake out jump scares, as well as mirror reveals, so he refuses to use many of these tropes.  The result is one of the most tense opening scenes ever done in a horror film.

The entire time that Cecelia is silently making her escape, we the audience feel an overwhelming sense of anxiety, as every tiny noise she accidentally makes might wake Adrian.

Later on, when he’s in his invisible form, Whannell toys with the same “character isn’t truly alone” tropes we so often see in supernatural/ghost horror.

But in many of those movies, fake out jump scares are used to keep the audience on edge.  Here however, Whannell makes sure that any time we get a jump scare or a surprise, it’s the result of something actually happening.

And who could forget that dinner scene?!

The film itself is shot in a really fascinating manner, particularly when The Invisible Man is exacting his brutal kills on other characters.  Whannell had previously used very smooth camera movements that followed the action of an AI in Upgrade, and that same style is very much on display here too.  It makes the action look incredibly smooth, almost unnaturally so, adding to the tension.

He may have started out as a writer/actor, but over the last few years, Leigh Whannell has demonstrated that he’s an equally talented director.  While his old collaborator and good friend James Wan has branched into other genres with Furious 7 and Aquaman, Leigh Whannell remains one of the leading creators of horror, and rightfully so!

Currently Whannell is slated to direct reboots of both The Wolman and Escape From New York. While it would be cool to see him make another original move like Upgrade, it will still be fun to see what he does with these properties.

What did you think of The Invisible Man?  Let us know in the comments!

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