Zach Dirksen — Staff Writer
It was 2014 and it was high time Universal Studios had its own cinematic universe. Disney and Marvel, with only a handful of fun, interconnected movies, had themselves a cash cow with the MCU. But Universal didn’t have superheroes. So, scouring the depths of their intellectual property, someone had an amazing idea. What if, we rebooted all the classic monster movies we made in the 1940’s, but also crossed them all over, Avengers-style. The idea was solid gold. Soon, the first film in the so-called Dark Universe, Dracula Untold hit theaters.
No one remembers Dracula Untold, and rightly so. It’s not a bad movie, per se, but it certainly isn’t one that can anchor a tentpole franchise. Unfazed by Dracula’s lack of success, Universal went all in. You know what’ll really put butts in seats? Tom Cruise. Fighting a mummy. Heck yeah! 2017’s The Mummy came, and went, with a whimper. It seems as though the Dark Universe just wasn’t meant to be. But Universal still had release dates lined up for future releases. Surely cancelling them all would be embarrassing. Plus, it might be nice to get a bit of the money they spent back, right? Thus, Universal turned to Blumhouse, which was dominating the scene with low-budget, but consistently entertaining horror movies like Get Out and Split, to help them pick up the slack.
Now, in 2020, we have the first of their efforts, The Invisible Man. In it, we follow Cecilia, a woman racked by fear and paranoia. After barely escaping the clutches of her abusive, tech millionaire ex-boyfriend, Cecilia finds herself holed up in a friend’s house. She ishesitant to even go outside, fearing the possibility that her controlling ex, Adrian, is out there looking for her. Adrian and Cecilia’s relationship was extremely one-sided, with Adrian controlling nearly every aspect of her life. Separating herself from that will take some time.
Cecilia soon finds that Adrian has committed suicide, and that he’s left much of his fortune to her, pending she keep to some conditions. She can’t commit a crime and she can’t be ruled mentally unstable. Cecilia is ready to move on, and having this money and Adrian out of her life can help her do that. But soon, strange things begin to happen. Cecilia feels breath on the back of her neck. Kitchen items begin to move, seemingly by themselves. Someone else is in the house with her. Is she crazy? Is it a ghost? Or is Adrian not ready to let her go just yet?
The Invisible Man is a masterclass in suspense. We know what we’re expecting going in, it’s in the title after all. What we aren’t expecting, however, is how nervous that thought can make us. The Invisible Man could be anywhere. Sitting in the chair in the corner or standing right behind us. He might not be there at all, but how could we tell? This is the constant state of paranoia that Cecilia is in throughout the film, and we feel that with her. Every empty space becomes a held breath, an I-Spy book, where we search for the slightest abnormality.
On a metaphorical level, the concept also works marvelously. While an Invisible Man is literally stalking Cecilia, the trauma of Adrian’s abuse haunts her as well. Those memories will never leave her, and Adrian’s presence, whether that be physical, mental, or metaphorical is still with her.
Perhaps the strongest element of The Invisible Man is Elizabeth Moss as Cecilia. Moss has been consistently tearing it up on television for two decades, starting on The West Wing and moving to Mad Men and The Handmaid’s Tale. Only recently has Moss made an impression in film, but she’s certainly here to stay. Moss brings a realistic and energized performance here. We experience these horrors as she does and Moss does wonders expressing Cecilia’s fear and pain.
I don’t know the state of the Dark Universe. After The Mummy, it seemed dead in the water. But with the success of The Invisible Man, Universal might actually have something. Instead of pandering to box office guarantees, they’ve chosen to take a risk with a smaller amount of money, making a personal story while still being scary, reinventing the classic monster movie for a new generation. With Universal and Blumhouse making plans to do the same with another Dracula movie, it looks like the monsters are here to stay. The Dark Universe is dead, all hail the Dark Universe.