The Invisible Man. MA15+
When the big-budget reimagining of The Mummy with Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe didn't set the international box office on fire in 2017, folk who kept an eye on such things were saying that Universal Pictures' plans to harvest its back catalogue of heroes and bad guys for an epic Marvel Universe-scale film series were dust.
On a much smaller scale than The Mummy comes this mostly Australian production that revisits another of Universal's 1930s baddies and possibly breathes life back into the Dark Universe franchise.
The Invisible Man first appeared from the pen of H.G. Wells in 1897, an impressive work of science fiction that has inspired a range of real-life science since. In 1933, Universal Pictures produced its first feature film drawn from the novel, with Claude Rains as the titular scientist who invents a method for an invisibility from which he cannot return. A dozen films followed, then successive TV series and reinterpretations.
A few years ago Universal Pictures were making a song-and-dance about their plans to revisit their back catalogue of creepy stars, which include the Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein's monster, the Wolf Man and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
While audiences didn't warm to The Mummy, Aussie filmmaker Leigh Whannell hits just the right note with this tale. Perhaps Universal should trust their multi-character, multi-year franchise idea to him, considering he's already achieved something similar with his filmmaking partner James Wan across their highly lucrative Saw and Insidious franchises.
In Whannell's screenplay, the focus doesn't rest on the crazy scientist - rightly so as you can't actually see him for most of the film - it sits with Elisabeth Moss.
Moss plays Celia, girlfriend to tech billionaire Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) whose speciality is optical science. As the film opens, Celia is fleeing their home where all is obviously not well. Staying safely with friends, Celia learns Adrian has taken his own life and left her some money.
Celia initially thinks she's working her way through a form of grief when she feels a presence in the room with her, but slowly the evidence mounts - things go missing, somebody emails from her account - and she realises that Adrian is not dead.
Celia alone knows how far along Adrian's research into optics and visibility had progressed, but can the world believe an obviously unbalanced woman screaming about an invisible dead boyfriend?
This is the ultimate gaslighting film, and Whannell is smart to reference an increasingly recognised phenomena as a real evil - more so than science-fiction bad scientists. Trigger warning - this smartly dressed horror is about domestic violence.
Whannell has his camera explore the negative space around Moss, and he allows the viewer's imagination to to do half the work of creating the film's scares. But it's not all left to the viewer. There is also a series of solid CGI and other effects work where Moss and her fellow actors (notably a great Aldis Hodge as Celia's friend) play against a terrifying "nothing".
Much of the film feels like a sequel to A Quiet Place - much is about the soundscape and the silence. After a particular explosion of violins and bass notes I spilled my soft drink all over myself.
Stefan Duscio's camera constructions are brilliant, moving from Moss and into the negative space around her to help fire our imaginations.
Across the Saw and Insidious films Whannell and Wan adorably placed a number of their Aussie actor pals, and in this film it is wonderful to see Michael Dorman and Nicholas Hope among others onscreen.