Spoilers ahead! Look out!
Because Leigh Whannell‘s take on The Invisible Man is so predicated on the terrors of empty space, I found myself staring at every nook and cranny of the frame more than any other filmgoing experience of recent memory, seeing if I could detect where (or even if) Oliver Jackson-Cohen was hiding, ready to instill his abusive sense of revenge on Elisabeth Moss (giving, just, such a friggin’ excellent performance). As such, I took in tons of information from this movie, and couldn’t help but notice some delightful Easter eggs in the process. You may have noticed some of these, but a couple might shock you more than a hidden monster suddenly drenched in paint.
First, the callbacks to the previous, iconic iterations of The Invisible Man. In one of the film’s best “jump scares minus the loud, jumpy sound effect,” Moss is sleeping in her new bed alongside Storm Reid, when the invisible man pulls off her blanket and takes some flash photos. When Moss slowly awakens, she looks up to see: A mannequin in a hat, suitcoat, and what looks an awful lot like goggles. Whannell and editor Andy Canny smash to this image abruptly but silently, and when the initial shock of this not-quite-human image wore off, I realized: This is exactly how the Invisible Man dressed to be visible in the original 1930s Universal horror film!
It’s a lovely way to use iconography from the past to render such a contemporarily styled scare, justified cleanly by Reid’s character being an aspiring fashion designer (and, frankly, this is a lewk I’m interested in). This ain’t the only time Whannell winks at the previous films though. Later on, when Moss is at the hospital, she makes curious eye contact with an injured patient whose face is covered in bandages (Anthony Brandon Wong, Ghost in The Matrix sequels) before he’s wheeled away. Once again, the face covered in bandages is perhaps the iconic take on the invisible man, and once again, Whannell is wielding it in a particularly contemporary “silent dread trumping loud theatrics” scare.
Now, onto the real sneaky stuff. Later in the picture, Moss escapes from her psychiatric hospital, causes a car crash, and steals the car from the dazed driver. As she rapidly makes a 180 turn to zoom to Reid and Aldis Hodge‘s home, we cut to a wide. It’s very quick, and the shot is purposefully in motion, but if you pay attention to some graffiti and street art on an industrial block camera left, you will 100% see a mural of Billy The Puppet from Saw — Whannell’s breakthrough in the horror film space as a writer and actor. When I saw this instantly identifiable image — that suit-wearing puppet on a tricycle with a Prince Valiant haircut and rosy-ass cheeks — I straight up let out a “Whoo!” in the theater. Now, friends, the next time you see The Invisible Man, you get to experience this delightful wink yourself.
Finally, and perhaps the most subtle nod of all. Whannell’s previous directorial effort Upgrade, if you haven’t seen it, absolutely freaking rips. It’s a muscly near future sci-fi-action-horror about a man out for revenge implanted with an A.I. that takes control of him and gives him freaky fighting powers. The Invisible Man has some broader references to Upgrade, including some of the “locked-off long-take” set pieces and fight choreography (i.e. Moss fainting in her job interview, the invisible man hospital fight) and the return of Benedict Hardie in a small role. But there’s something even bigger going on, with something even smaller.
The name of the tech company in Upgrade is Cobalt. And the name of Jackson-Cohen’s tech company… is Cobalt. Holy cannoli. Is The Invisible Man a stealth prequel to Upgrade? Is there an extended Whannell-verse of dystopian technological nightmares? Did Jackson-Cohen’s Invisible Man inject himself with the same A.I. as Upgrade? One Twitter user asked Whannell directly if the Cobalt of it all is just a small wink, or a hint at something grander. And… well, we’ll let Whannell speak for himself.
For more on The Invisible Man, here’s all the movies you should watch right after you see it. Plus: the best monster movies of the 21st century so far.