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New Escapist Column! On the Hubristic Tragedy of the Dark Universe…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. With the release of The Invisible Man this week, which is quite good, I took a look back to Universal Studios’ abandoned and cursed Dark Universe.

Frankly, there is no way to talk about the Dark Universe without acknowledging it as one of the greatest acts of cinematic hubris in the twenty-first century. The whole misbegotten experiment was transparently a result of Universal looking at the success of The Avengers, and deciding to built its own imitation using whatever properties it found lying down the back of the couch. The result was Dracula Untold and The Mummy (along with one of the most hilariously ambitious pieces of marketing ambition in living memory), two of the worst-reviewed blockbusters of the decade.

Luckily, The Invisible Man is a fantastic piece of work, a shrewd and sophisticated horror that is more interested in telling its own story than existing as a piece of “content” for a larger shared universe. You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: The Invisible Man (2020)

The Invisible Man makes his victims visible.

Freed from the confines of the ill-fated blockbuster “Dark Universe”, writer and director Leigh Whannell is able to craft a version of the iconic H.G. Wells story that speaks to the modern moment and which taps into a set of fears that are a lot easier to acknowledge these days. Horror stories have always worked best as allegories for the things that unsettle a society – even back to the sexual anxieties of Dracula and the monstrous procreation of Frankenstein – as so Whannell reconfigures The Invisible Man to speak to a terror that was largely invisible until recently.

Ringing true.

The central protagonist of The Invisible Man is not the eponymous translucent figure. Appropriately enough, the man who turns himself invisible is largely marginalised by the narrative. In the opening ten minutes, he’s glimpsed lying in bed and then through a car window, but his face is consciously obscured. Through the rest of the film, he is largely present in a few photographs and acting through his brother as a proxy. His absence is both clever and effective, underscoring the extent to which he dominates and haunts the film even when he is off-screen.

Instead, The Invisible Man is built around Cecilia Kass. It remains tightly focused on her efforts to escape her abusive ex-boyfriend, even after his apparent suicide. The Invisible Man suggests that such trauma cannot easily be evaded and eluded. “Adrian will haunt you, if you let him,” one of Cecilia’s friends warns her. The Invisible Man argues that he’ll haunt her either way.

Interrogating assumptions.

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