It can be a dicey proposition to update a horror classic. You can look out of step if you’re too nostalgic, or disrespectful if you take too many liberties.
That’s what makes “The Invisible Man” (available On Demand) such a modest triumph. While fully acknowledging the original H.G. Wells story and earlier screen versions, it modernizes the tale in an extremely effective way … thanks in no small part to a superb performance by Elisabeth Moss, of “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Mad Men” fame, as a victim of an abusive relationship.
She deals with a mad man of a different kind here, since her character continues to be victimized after her abuser apparently is gone. He’s a scientific genius she leaves at the start of the film, and played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen, he has the technical know-how to keep an eye on her even when she can’t see him vengefully doing it — but she knows he’s there.
It’s not fair to spoil the twists of “The Invisible Man,” but as he’s done with the “Saw” and “Insidious” series, writer-director Leigh Whannell has taken conventions of the genre and given them really fresh spins. And in this #MeToo era, the approach of the update is especially relevant and unnerving.
Moss makes a great representative for that, with her award-winning “Handmaid’s Tale” work serving as an ideal undercurrent for what she does here. Her latest alter ego is very much a modern woman going up against classic terror, but with a contemporary overlay that is obvious and ingenious at the same time. The invisible fellow always had an advantage over his targets — with him able to see them while they couldn’t reciprocate — but that has extra, even eerier meaning now.
It also helps “The Invisible Man” succeed where some of its other horror-classic updates of recent years didn’t, a sadly notable example being Tom Cruise’s stab at “The Mummy.” With audiences being that much more sophisticated now, it takes something additional and smart to make such an effort work, and “The Invisible Man” positions itself as a textbook example for such attempts going forward. A god supporting cast that also includes Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid (“A Wrinkle in Time”) and Harriet Dyer (TV’s “The InBetween”) also helps.
Just when you might think, “Not another horror remake,” comes “The Invisible Man.” And even if its title villain isn’t always visible, he sure makes his presence felt.