The Invisible Man proves great thriller adaptations can still be made in 2020
Many films associated with the peaks of the thriller genre derive from books, but not many - until now - are recent.
The classic thriller film is a surprisingly difficult genre to nail. Like its commonly associated ‘sister genre’ horror, thriller movies are often a touch hit-and-miss when it comes to whether they’re actually seat-grappling intense or whether they fail to hit the mark, and because of that, the movies that typically find themselves in the ‘Best Thriller Movies of All Time’ lists are plucked from the same few films. Think along the lines of The Silence of the Lambs, Psycho and The Six Sense, which are all films dating back to the past millennium (Pyscho came out in the 60s!) that come up in basically every genre-encapsulating list.
That said, there have been a couple of great, modern-day thrillers released in the past few years. Jordan Peele’s Get Out is an obvious and iconic example; a masterclass in the modern-day thriller and how thrillers can often go above and beyond to deliver something beyond just a movie that’ll increase your heart-rate a touch. Get Out, for example, brought commentary on racial and political issues at a time where they felt more needed than ever, and its commentary and symbolism extend into Peele’s follow-up, the more horror-adjacent Us. The Natalie Portman-led Black Swan is another, and one that has come to define the actresses’ career.
One thing that’s worth noting, however, is that Get Out and Black Swan are original screenplays, not definitively based off a known story or book. It’s a common thing generally-speaking - although many people would argue the opposite; cries that “why can’t we have original movies these days?!” feel all the more apparent - that shouldn’t warrant a mention until you realise that many of these iconic thriller films over the years have all been inspired or directly derived by books and poetry; bringing these relatively iconic stories to a theatrical life and often, breathing new light into them in the process.
Are all the good thriller-centric literature plots used up? Or is it just a struggle to bring other mediums to theatrical release when the public demand - and much of the critical demand - feels so particularly strong about a lack of original material (at this year’s Academy Awards, for example, over half of the nominees for Best Picture were original screenplays, including its thriller-themed winner Parasite)? It’s probably a combination - we’re no experts in film and theatrical habits to really know - but it definitely feels like the tides are turning against modern-day reinventions of thriller favourites.
That, however, is where 2020’s thriller-to-keep-an-eye-on The Invisible Man comes into play. The film is based on H. G. Wells’ iconic 1897 (!) book of the same name, which has over the last century, has been reinvented more times than anyone could count: A 1933 film and its sequels its most popular and recognised reinvention, but the book’s legacy expands into TV, web series, other books and comics, and even Queen songs spanning a period of over 100 years.
A new take on The Invisible Man would be a difficult feat for someone considering the amount of differing, plot-changing re-dos the book has hosted over the years, but for Leigh Whannell - someone often referred to as the modern-day master of thriller and horror, thanks to his work across the Saw and Insidious series - it’s something well within his grasp, and by the time The Invisible Man wraps up, you’re instantly walking away feeling like Whannell’s interpretation on the iconic plot could be amongst its most impressive and original.
From start to finish, Whannell’s adaptation of The Invisible Man is one of the most inventive thriller films in recent memory, even in its ability to take known and predictable conventions of the genre - jump scares, for example - and completely transform them into something new and brilliant. Without giving too much away, it’s the type of film that’ll make you want to see it again and again - not just because it’s good, but because there are so many subtleties you feel like you might’ve missed while attempting to beat the film’s climactic ending.
Out in cinemas today, The Invisible Man proves that there’s plenty of thriller-adjacent stories ready for a modern retelling, and in case the film doesn’t have you completely won over, here are a few other films derived from other mediums that have breathed fresh air into the thriller genre.
Bar The Invisible Man, Gone Girl is easily one of the best-adapted thriller screenplays this side of the new millennium. Based on the Gillian Flynn novel of the same name, the film is one that’ll constantly keep your eyes locked on the screen; one twist after another - plus an all-time performance by Rosamund Pike - ensuring that this film is one to enter the essential thriller canon.
Gone Baby Gone
Also starring Ben Affleck and with a remarkably similar title, Gone Baby Gone is a film that often gets snubbed in favour for the aforementioned Gone Girl. However, this 2007 film was the one that made Ben Affleck’ directing career land with a splash, taking on a darker, more gripping side of the thriller genre.
A Simple Favour
2018’s Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively-starring A Simple Favour may not be your first thought of a ‘thriller movie’ thanks to its comedic edge, but the film is based off a book that ups the creepiness factor and sets the stage for the film’s darker, often-overlooked thriller tones. It’s light but also twisted and hinting at something darker; a light thriller for those unaccustomed to its darker edge.
The Girl On The Train
Fun fact: A Simple Favour was initially pitched as a comparable to Gone Girl and The Girl On The Train, the latter being another mystery-thriller, this time starring Emily Blunt, to prove that the late-2010s was a gold mine for adapted thriller films. This one comes with a bit of a crime edge, taking the genre’s characteristic mannerisms and injecting it with something new to keep people on their toes.
Murder on the Orient Express
It’s cliche, but it’s impossible to talk about recent thriller adaptations without bringing up Murder on the Orient Express. Yet another example of the genre’s intertwining with crime-mystery, the 2017 Agatha Cristie adaptation - which includes one of thriller’s most bloated casts - is the most recent of many attempts to translate the classic book to screen, and while it doesn’t exactly add anything new to the plot, it doesn’t have to - it's all class.