How ‘The Invisible Man’s’ Production and Costume Designer Avoided Horror Tropes

The Invisible Man
Universal Pictures/Blumhouse

While Universal’s “The Invisible Man” is based on the studio’s popular 1933 horror feature of the same name, director Leigh Whannell didn’t envision his remake as a fright fest. That provided the marching orders for his artistic team: Production designer Alex Holmes and costume designer Emily Seresin sought to avoid horror tropes, turning the Elisabeth Moss-starring reboot, which bows Feb. 28, into a thriller with horror elements.

“What Leigh was talking about was that this [movie] very much existed in the real world,” Seresin says, “like you might be looking at a documentary.”

Holmes says the film eschews a Gothic aesthetic, instead “deliberately creating normal colors [and] domestic spaces that didn’t feel contrived.” Even when it came creating to the home of the eponymous character, tech genius Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), the team focused on situating him as a person who discovers something grander than himself rather than one who creates the futuristic space of a scientific genius.

Although set in San Francisco, the film was shot in Sydney, Australia. Holmes scouted locations that didn’t center around Sydney Harbor, prioritizing ones that were more secluded. “We needed something [that would suit] someone who stayed in a more remote area,” he says.

Holmes and Whannell worked closely to make Adrian’s Invisible Man suit similarly grounded in reality. The production designer partnered with the science department of New South Wales University to explore how an invisibility suit could actually work. Seresin (“Top of the Lake,” “Cleverman”) was brought in later in the process to contribute ideas for the design of the costume.

With a limited budget that used most of its CGI spending to create the Invisible Man himself, Holmes explains that Whannell wanted to do a lot of the film’s invisible tricks in camera. “A knife slipping off the counter or appearing in Cecilia’s [Elisabeth Moss] hand was all done with a bit of wire removal,” he notes.

Because the film is a stalker thriller, the characters’ state of mind needed to be evident in every facet of their lives. Cecilia is described by Seresin as “unraveled at the beginning,” which meant that her costumes had to suggest a sense of hiding. “She is, for the most part, incredibly vulnerable,” Seresin says. “You go straight into her being in this cocoon-like state where she wants to protect herself from the world.” And Seresin interpreted Cecilia’s job as an architect to mean “she wasn’t specifically into color; she was into shape.” Thus the clothes she wears are light in hue, and draped or layered, until she has to leave her house and interact with the real world.

Yet while Cecilia wears her temperament on her sleeve, Adrian is described more by the things he keeps around him. His house had to evoke a Brutalist style — blocky and rigidly geometric — and illustrate his prison-like mentality even as it showed off his wealth.

“Minimalism was key,” Holmes says. “[The home] had to be depersonalized … it was all very controlled, very obsessive-compulsive to echo his personality.”