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It’s easy to see right through The Invisible Man’s flimsy storyline.

The Invisible Story

Cecilia in a creepy place
Cecilia in a creepy place

Don’t be fooled.

This modern spin on the H.G. Wells classic is masquerading as a story of female empowerment. But, while on the surface it’s about a manipulated woman trapped in an abusive relationship, it’s really about a manipulated audience trapped in a lazy story.

The cheating — narrative cheating, not relationship cheating — starts early in writer/director Leigh Whannell’s bland take on an interesting concept.

For one thing, the audience is thrown right into the action (such as it is) without an introduction to the characters. There’s no effort to forge a relationship between the audience and the core protagonists, nor the leading antagonist. That alone could’ve helped establish more intrigue. As it stands, it’s a simple premise and simple story with simple characters.

To wit, the movie opens with a young woman, Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale on Netflix), sneaking out of her boyfriend’s spiffy oceanside house in the middle of the night. No sooner is she picked up by her sister, Alice (Harriet Dyer, TV’s The InBetween), than the boyfriend, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix), catches up to them and smashes one of the car’s side windows with his bare fist. Ouch. (And, yeah, right.)

Cecilia and Alice escape, but subsequent news reports of Adrian’s suicide do little to ease Cecilia’s nerves. And, in keeping with the movie’s fear of creating wholly developed characters, the creepiness sets in quickly to distract from the narrative flaws.

Is Adrian a bad guy? Well, he smashed that window. Kinda speaks for itself.

Is Cecilia a good girl? The audience doesn’t know because the audience doesn’t really know her or what drives her. Nonetheless, is there really an invisible force terrorizing her? More than likely.

Whatever’s going on, that invisible force doesn’t speak. (Another one of the cheats.) And it is a menace as the mischief shifts from malicious emails sent from Cecilia’s account to framing Cecilia for murder in a very public place.

The Invisible Suit

Unfortunately, the movie’s biggest problem lies directly in its conceit. While this might verge on spoiler territory, it’s a given there’s an invisible man in the story. But, this time, instead of a chemical experiment in which the concoction enabling invisibility is in itself a danger to the scientist’s well-being, the device here is a high-tech, form-fitting suit.

There’s something so incredibly mundane about the direction this story takes. It’s established Adrian’s made millions as a wizard of optical technology. He’s put that wizardry to use and made a cloak of invisibility, which is on display in his house. Well, okay, it’s on display when it’s not in use.

But, couple that mute factor (no doubt a deficiency in the narrative integrity than in the technology itself) with another big ol’ cheat. It’s a bit of a spoiler. But, let’s put it out there: Adrian has a brother, Tom (Michael Dorman, The Water Diviner), who allegedly lived in fear of Adrian, but serves as his estate handler. The two are never seen together; maybe they’re the same height. Maybe. Maybe not.

But it’s clear Cecilia is a shorty. Much, much shorter than Adrian.

Therein lies a major problem for this suit of optical sensors that — short of some sort of superhero science — is a fixed net of gadgetry with a custom fit for a specific build and height.

Sigh.

That’s probably thinking too hard for a movie that doesn’t want to work very hard at creating the thrills and chills.

Lights Out for Dark Universe

Only three years ago, there were big plans for rebooting Universal’s classic monster movies. The Dark Universe launched with Tom Cruise starring in the horrifyingly ill-conceived remake of The Mummy. The vision was to build a cinematic universe akin to what Marvel’s been doing and Warner’s clumsily tried to do with the gargantuan monster characters (King Kong, Godzilla, etc.). The Mummy introduced Russell Crowe as Dr. Jekyll and his laboratory of mad scientist experiments (a freeze-frame treasure trove of references to the old-school horror movies). It was the setup for a series of interconnected threads across the universe of monsters, including the wolfman and the creature from the black lagoon.

Cecilia with Adrian
Cecilia with Adrian

The Mummy sucked, but it had some cool ideas lurking in the shadows. Nonetheless, the movie’s critical and commercial drubbing led to all those plans being scrapped, including a retelling of The Invisible Man with Johnny Depp in the lead role. Instead of addressing the problems specific to The Mummy (a terrible protagonist, for starters) and moving on with this big idea, which was loaded with all sorts of creative possibilities — it just needed the right guiding hands, not the clumsy clenched fists of Alex Kurtzman, the Dark Universe’s trustee – Universal’s switched to a series of standalone remakes without an overarching thread tying them together. And it’s been punted over to Blumhouse, masters of low-budget horror.

Now comes this new rendition of The Invisible Man, completely divorced from those big Dark Universe ambitions. It’s also disappointingly detached from all manner of creative possibilities revisiting H.G. Wells’ source material should’ve afforded the filmmakers.

The good news is it isn’t as obnoxiously bad as Cruise’s mummy misfire. The bad news is it still isn’t all that great. It’s rather generic, actually, with a storyline that is a little stale, predictable and lacking in ingenuity.

Ironically, this one could’ve benefited from the bigger picture ambitions of the Dark Universe.

Even so, this new version still has a connection with the 1933 original starring Claude Rains. Now, the lead is Adrian Griffin, a tech overlord who’s built an empire in Silicon Valley. In 1933, Rains played Jack Griffin, a mad scientist in the classic sense.

But, there’s no effort whatsoever to connect the two aside from the name. That alone could’ve added a level of trickery and mischief — and fun — this one desperately needs.