The Invisible Man: Trailer Breakdown With Leigh Whannell

The Invisible Man

by Ben Travis |
Updated on

After moving into sci-fi-action territory with last year’s cult summer flick Upgrade, horror maestro Leigh Whannell is back in fear mode with his latest film – one with a classic movie monster at its centre. The Australian filmmaker is presenting an all-new take on a familiar tale with The Invisible Man, placing Universal’s legendary character into a horror-thriller that tackles themes including abusive relationships, emotional trauma, and gaslighting – and boasting a cast led by Elisabeth Moss.

Working once again with Blumhouse, Whannell’s latest looks to steer more towards the ‘social horror’ territory of Get Out than the frighthouse rides of the Insidious movies – telling a timely and potently metaphorical horror tale. Empire hopped on the phone with the writer-director to talk his bold new take on a 100-year-old concept, his leading duo, why he wanted to turn the lights on, and more – read through the gallery to dig deeper into the film's first trailer.


The Invisible Man: Trailer Breakdown With Leigh Whannell

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The Invisible Man

Empire spoke to The Invisible Man director Leigh Whannell to talk the characters, stars, and themes of his new take on the Universal Classic Monster. Read the gallery for more.

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1) Cecilia's escape

Most versions of The Invisible Man revolve around the title character as the protagonist. But Whannell's new take instead centres on Elisabeth Moss' Cecilia, here seen fleeing from her partner Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) in the middle of the night. "It's the story of a woman trapped in a controlling, emotionally and physically abusive relationship," says Whannell. "That's really where we meet her, and the story takes off from there. She's a really intelligent young woman, a promising architec0ture student with the whole world in front of her, whose life suddenly is put on pause because of this toxic relationship."

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2) The spectre of abuse

With Adrian apparently dead by suicide, the trailer shows Cecilia trying to move on from the trauma of his abuse – except, it's quickly clear that he isn't really gone. "I felt like in a modern context the scariest thing to do would be to have the victim be the central character," Whannell says. "The more I worked at it, the more it became apparent that the Invisible Man, the idea of the spectre of somebody haunting you, is a great metaphor for one of these relationships where people are scarred and traumatised. I really just wanted to tell the most tense, most nerve-wracking, scariest Invisible Man story I could. That was my primary goal the whole way."

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3) Offred strikes back

As anyone who's seen Moss's work will know, this is far from the first time she's battled the patriarchy on screen. "Mad Men might be my favourite TV show of all time," Whannell says. "And The Handmaid's Tale is something that my wife and I have been addicted to since it started, so I was very familiar with what she's capable of." For Moss, it was a chance to play around in a genre she's long hoped to (and did so in a supporting capacity in Jordan Peele's Us). "It turns out she's a big horror fan," Whannell explains. "She's always watching them, she's always wanted to be a part of one, but she was just waiting for the right one. She wanted to make something she felt was really meaningful, and so I'm lucky that she felt this was it."

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4) The visible man

Whannell's Invisible Man isn't the traditional Griffin of H.G. Wells' original novel – though there perhaps is some shared DNA there. While the Victorian-era Griffin was probing into the powers of science, Adrian is a more contemporary form of pioneer. "He's a tech genius who has made a lot of money very quickly in the tech world," reveals Whannell. "That sort of money and power that the tech titans of the world have given to them creates a certain world-view. It's hard to remain normal when you're that rich and powerful, without naming any names. I feel like that's who Adrian is – he's someone who's sociopathy has been rewarded."

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5) A Haunting figure

While he spends most of the film hiding in plain sight, when you can see Adrian he takes the form of British actor Oliver Jackson-Cohen – who's no stranger to horror projects. "I'd seen him in The Haunting Of Hill House," Whannell confirms. "He actually put down an audition tape, and I was just blown away by what he did. He was so interesting. When you're looking for a character that is a villain, for lack of a better term, a sociopath looking to do harm to others, you want to avoid the moustache-twirling trappings of a villain. Adrian was not leaning into the villainy of it all. He was playing it in this really interesting way. He's one of those actors who seems to be able to flick a switch in two seconds and go from zero to 100. He can be mucking about one second, and then he becomes this character."

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6) He’s behind you

Even though Adrian is often unseen, the trailer teases his omnipresence – a breath from an unseen body, a handprint in the bathroom, an indent in an armchair. "I was thinking about, what are the best ways to exploit the idea of an invisible man? What haven't we seen before?" says the director. "You've got to live up to the promise of the premise, and that was something that was key for me – I knew I had to have a long laundry list of scenes where this power was being represented on screen in a way that was exciting or hadn't been seen before."

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7) Horror with the lights on

Earlier this year Ari Aster gave us a broad-daylight horror with Midsommar – and Whannell is similarly choosing not to shroud his Invisible Man in murk. "The Invisible Man doesn't need to hide in the darkness – that's the whole point of the Invisible Man!" he says. "This is a monster who doesn't need to hide in the dark. He could be standing right next to you in a lit room and you wouldn't know he was there." Having played with more traditional horror tropes in Saw and Insidious, the filmmaker saw it as a chance to challenge himself. "I always make a list of, what am I going to say that's new? What am I bringing that's new to the genre in this film?" he says. "One of the first things that came into my head was to turn the lights on. I've shot many horror films in very low light, but this one I wanted the lights on."

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8) A familiar face

If Whannell's version of The Invisible Man is a departure from previous incarnations, there's a clear visual nod to the 1933 Claude Rains version in the trailer – a figure, maybe but also maybe not Adrian, wrapped entirely in bandages. "I'm definitely paying homage to the original Invisible Man. It's a character that I'm reverent of, it's something that's lived in culture for a long time," Whannell explains of the film – though he's largely uninterested in rehashing the past. "I felt like the best way to move this character forward was to come up with a whole modern take on it, something very grounded, not something gothic. I didn't want the lightning striking over the cemetery as the fog rolled across the ground, I didn't want the floating sunglasses. There is a version of The Invisible Man that is very retro and an homage to a style of movies past. That is not something I wanted to do."

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9) Now you see him

And just before the trailer wraps up, we 'see' the Invisible Man properly – a shimmery figure, reminiscent of Verhoeven's Hollow Man. And is that a sort of hexagonal patterning? "I don't want to say too much about that stuff!" says Whannell. "There is a little to discover. But I look forward to chatting to you again after you've seen the movie." See you for the Spoiler Special, Leigh.

The Invisible Man arrives in UK cinemas on 28 February 2020.

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