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THE INVISIBLE MAN Takes on New Meaning in Quarantine

It’s hard to watch media right now without looking for parallels. We’re trapped inside, months into a worldwide quarantine as the COVID-19 pandemic rages ever on, and are thusly left to television and film for comfort and escapism. But also to help make sense of the nonsensical reality enveloping us. It’s easy, too, to make note of themes of isolation and loneliness in our fiction, and to wonder what sense of divinity might have led us to watch this thing in this moment.

That feeling is especially prescient in rewatches of the 2020 horror film The Invisible Man. The coronavirus pandemic shut down most of the world shortly after its theatrical release, but the film was almost immediately made available to purchase on VOD from home. Watching it now, it’s almost eerie that this movie came out on the brink of global quarantine, as it deals so heavily with the sense of isolation, madness, and invisible danger.

That coincidence wasn’t lost on screenwriter and director Leigh Whannell. “In the film, Elisabeth Moss’ character is in a self-imposed state where she won’t leave the house,” Whannell told Nerdist ahead of The Invisible Man’s Blu-ray release. “That was obviously written a long time before this happened, but now people are watching this movie from her point of view, stuck in the house all the time, looking out the window. I find it interesting how films end up mirroring society in ways that you didn’t plan.”

THE INVISIBLE MAN Takes On New Meaning in Quarantine_1Universal Pictures/Blumhouse Productions

The film follows a woman named Cecelia Kass (Moss), who escapes from her abusive optics engineer boyfriend Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and goes into hiding. She finds refuge in the home of her best friend James Lanier (Aldis Hodge), a police detective, and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). Soon after her escape, she learns that Adrian is dead and that she stands to inherit $5 million from his estate. But just as thing settle into normalcy, Cecelia grows suspicious that Adrian faked his death and is hiding in plain sight thanks to his optics technology, haunting and tormenting her from the shadows to enact revenge on her for attempting a life beyond his control.

The Invisible Man brilliantly flips the script from the original H.G. Wells story—told through the point of view of the invisible man himself—and puts us right into the victim’s psyche. The victim, in this case, is a woman fighting for her life and sanity. And by her side is James, a man tasked with a difficult role: to provide sanctuary for his friend, even as she descends into what looks, from the outside, like mania.

“How do you support somebody when you don’t believe what they’re trying to say, without patronizing and shaming them?” Hodge told Nerdist of his role. It’s a trickier part than it might initially appear, as he straddles the line between playing the “good cop” to his friend and caring for his daughter, whose often caught in the violent warpath of Cecelia and Adrian’s dilemma.

Elisabeth Moss as Cecelia in The Invisible Man.Universal Pictures/Blumhouse Productions

“The thing that I really liked about the script is the fact that we had a female lead taking us through a journey of her finding her strength,” Hodge said of what drew him to the project. The Invisible Man shot in Australia, which seems perfect dressing for that theme of isolation, although Hodge said that came more through the immense sound stages than the location.

The characters are all stalked by this menacing invisible presence throughout, never knowing when it might strike or with what intensity. That’s another eerie parallel during a pandemic, when our collective assailant cannot be seen. “When you’re talking about invisibility, what’s scarier than wondering if someone is in the room with you or not?” Whannell said of that choice to make the film about Cecelia instead of Adrian, and how it relates to our current situation. “The way that story is traditionally told is as a descent into madness, but if you’re telling the story from the villain’s point of view, you know when he’s in the room. If you’re telling it from the victim’s point of view, you never know where he is… ever.”

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Universal Pictures/Blumhouse Productions

The COVID-19 pandemic also has another haunting side effect. According to the United Nations Population Fund and other reports, domestic violence has surged in quarantine, as people are trapped inside with their abusers. In The Invisible Man, Cecelia is able to escape the home of the man who hurts her, but that’s not a reality for many people right now.

“Films are so personal,” Whannell explained. “But if someone was empowered by this movie, if someone was in a bad situation and the movie empowered them to get out of it, that would be fantastic.”

Hodge said, “I would hope that [viewers in that situation] take a beat to realize how special they are, how valuable they are, and how much they deserve a better experience, a better reality, a better life. To take a minute to think, ‘I’m special, I’m worth something, I’m valuable, I’m beautiful.’”

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Universal Pictures/Blumhouse Productions

It’s part of what makes The Invisible Man such a vital remake, and such an important piece of media for this moment. In the end, Cecelia proves Adrian is still alive, and enacts her own plan of revenge. She vanquishes the invisible force that tries to destroy her. She survives. It may be a fantasy, but it feels so damn good. And that’s exactly what we need right now.

The Invisible Man is now available on Digital, 4k Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD.

Featured Image: Universal Pictures/Blumhouse Productions