‘The Invisible Man’: Leigh Whannell, Elisabeth Moss on Updating the Monster for the Modern Age

Blumhouse’s “The Invisible Man” finally revealed itself at its premiere at the TCL Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard on Monday. Playing to a packed auditorium, the horror film ratcheted up the tension in the room with its intense, near-silent opening sequence and continued to send waves of screams up the rows of the theater as the story unfolded.

“Honestly, like the first ten pages of this script are exactly what’s on the screen,” lead actress Elisabeth Moss told Variety on the red carpet before the screening began. “It’s a really wild opening that kind of blows your socks off.”

The new film brings Universal’s nearly 90-year-old horror property — and the 1897 H.G. Wells science-fiction novel it’s adapted from — into the modern age by modifying the role of its titular menace. While prior versions of the story centered on the Invisible Man, Blumhouse’s version makes him an elusive villain and the film’s protagonist is Moss’ Cecilia Kass, a woman attempting to convince others that she is being stalked by her invisible ex from hell.

“I thought it was very smart because of the subject matter it was tackling and how it tackled it, [integrating] common cultural issues that are really afflicting women,” Aldis Hodge — who plays James Lanier, Kass’ police officer confidant in the film — said.

Storm Reid, who plays Lanier’s daughter, Sydney, echoed his praise. “We’re talking about gaslighting and toxic masculinity and domestic violence,” Reid explained. “It was important to have a woman at the center of this film who was struggling and really had to step outside of herself to save her own life. I felt like it was very relatable, so I’m proud to be a part of it.”

The film’s new spin was the brainchild of writer-director Leigh Whannell, who was called into Blumhouse for a meeting after making the cyberpunk horror film “Upgrade” for the studio in 2018 and asked for his thoughts on “The Invisible Man.”

“It would be like if someone just out of the blue [and said] ‘What do you think of Peter O’Toole?’ Like, ‘I guess he’s great? Why are you bringing this up now?’” Whannell laughed, recalling his impromptu pitch. “I just started ad-libbing and I said, ‘Well, if I [were] to make an ‘Invisible Man,’ I would tell the story from the point of view of the victim.’ And they were like, ‘That’s a great take. We’re in business,’ and next thing I knew I had a job.”

And a challenging one at that, though Whannell was excited to craft scares without a monster on-screen. “One of the things that made me want to do this movie [was] the fact that you can point a camera at empty space and make it tense,” Whannell said. “Can I do for empty space what ‘Jaws’ did for the beach?”

Composer Benjamin Wallfisch was inspired by another master of suspense, saying he angled his score toward Bernard Herrmann’s work with Alfred Hitchcock, emphasizing the psychological in lieu of a detectable force.

“This was an extraordinarily unique film,” Wallfisch said. “[I] was just led by Elisabeth Moss and her performance, which is so powerful. Being led by her emotional journey really gave me the clues for the journey the score needed to go on.”

Whannell also praised Moss’ work on the film. “The whole movie rests on this lead,” he said. “I don’t know if there [are] many actors that could really pull that off. Elisabeth is on that list.”

Though other studios continue to spin intellectual properties into cinematic universes, there are currently no other Universal monster revivals in the pipeline at Blumhouse. But the team would be up for more, if asked. Producer Jason Blum expressed an urge to take a crack at a modern Frankenstein, while Whannell said it would be fun to tackle Dracula.

Moss, on the other hand, seems satisfied taking a break from heavier material for a little bit, following a slew of dramatically intense roles in projects like “Us,” “Her Smell” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

“I just don’t understand! Why can’t I just do a nice romantic comedy for like nine months in a beautiful location? What’s the problem with that?” Moss said, citing last year’s “Long Shot” and “Always Be My Maybe” as two recent romcoms that she loved.

Following the screening, an after party gathered just across the street at the Roosevelt Hotel, attended by Moss’s “Mad Men” co-star Jon Hamm, Universal’s Donna Langley and Ron Meyers, and a band of Whannell’s fellow Australians in the industry celebrating their countryman’s movie.

Jason Blum, Elisabeth Moss, Ron Meyer, Leigh Whannell and Oliver Jackson-Cohen'The Invisible Man' film premiere, After Party, TCL Chinese Theatre, Los Angeles, USA - 24 Feb 2020
CREDIT: Michael Buckner/Variety/Shutterstock

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