The last time Universal Pictures tried to bring one of their classic movie monsters into the modern era, we got the huge folly that was 2017's Tom Cruise-starring The Mummy.

The bloated, premature attempt to launch a new "dark" cinematic universe featuring the studio's classic horror characters (Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, The Wolf Man et al) went poorly and the plan was cancelled after only one movie.

A leaner and meaner approach has been adopted for The Invisible Man, a fresh take on Universal's 1933 classic that starred Claude Rains and was based on H.G. Wells' novel.

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Written and directed by Australian Leigh Whannell (Saw, Insidious), produced by horror hit-factory Blumhouse and filmed in Sydney, the 2020 version flips the perspective from the title character's to that of Cecilia Kass (The Handmaid's Tale's Elisabeth Moss).

Trapped in a violent, controlling relationship with scientist Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), Kass disappears into hiding, aided by her sister, their childhood friend and his teenage daughter.

Elisabeth Moss plays Cecilia, who works to prove she is being hunted by her ex-boyfriend who took his own life. Photo / Supplied
Elisabeth Moss plays Cecilia, who works to prove she is being hunted by her ex-boyfriend who took his own life. Photo / Supplied

But when Griffin apparently commits suicide, leaving Kass a generous portion of his vast fortune, she suspects his death was a hoax.

As a series of eerie incidents turns lethal, her sanity begins to unravel. Part of the horror is provided by her increasingly desperate need to prove she's being hunted by someone nobody can see.

"I just felt that it's a scarier movie if the invisible man is something unknowable, something mysterious," Whannell tells TimeOut in Los Angeles.

"I wanted to make something where we were in the shoes of his victim. Because to me, that would be the scariest thing in the world, someone who's not visible stalking you, attacking you."

His take allows the film to engage in issues like emotionally abusive relationships and gaslighting - a form of psychological manipulation that makes someone question their mind, with an impact on their personality and self-esteem.

It's not typical horror movie fodder and Moss says that's largely why she wanted to be involved.

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"[It's] the idea of a woman not being heard and not being believed and how that is the most destructive thing you can do to anybody who is in that situation," says Moss. "That is something that thankfully is a part of the conversation now more, which is great but it definitely needs to continue to be a part of it."

Genre films can be an effective way of addressing a serious topic, because the audience isn't expecting it, she adds.

"It's one of the oldest tricks in the book as far as art is concerned. It's a way for us to look at something without having to be preached at and not feel like we're the bad guys. It's a way for us to identify with something. If that's how you have to get the message across, then: fantastic."

The man behind Blumhouse, Jason Blum, says a meaty plot is essential to making a successful horror film.

Leigh Whannell wrote and directed the film. Photo / AP
Leigh Whannell wrote and directed the film. Photo / AP

"What draws audiences … is the story in between the horror," says Blum. "Is the story compelling and thrilling? If you're relying on the scares for storytelling, then you're in trouble. I think this film gains from being topical, but I do think the movie is, at its heart, a great, fun kind of popcorn thriller."

Moss was raised on a steady diet of horror films with more to offer than scares.

"The Exorcist and The Shining and Poltergeist - movies that were terrifying and beautifully shot," she says.

"They were fun but they also had these deeper themes. I do feel that Jordan [Peele, writer/director of Get Out and Us] and Blumhouse have been a huge influence in bringing back scary movies that you talk about afterwards. That's what we're into now because audiences are smart and they need that."

Moss has experienced the power of an urgent narrative first-hand with the huge success of dystopian drama The Handmaid's Tale.

"That definitely came around at an interesting time for me as a feminist and as a citizen of [the United States] and of the world. It coincided with a huge shift in in my country, politically, and a lot of change that I, and many people, [did] not welcome. It opened up my eyes to, perhaps, a little bit more of where my voice was and how maybe I could lend that to something that I believed in."

She recently finished shooting a role in Next Goal Wins, Taika Waititi's upcoming comedy based on a 2014 documentary about the efforts of the weakest football team in the world, American Samoa, to qualify for the World Cup.
 
"Taika's movie was super, super fun," says Moss. "I'd never worked with him before. I met him years ago at Sundance when he was there with Boy, and he's just one of the most generous, warm-hearted people. And obviously brutally funny. That was a very fun shoot."

• The Invisible Man is in cinemas today.

Lowdown

Who: Elisabeth Moss, Jason Blum and Leigh Whannell
What: The Invisible Man
When: In cinemas tomorrow

Welcome to the House of Blum

Although also behind acclaimed dramas Whiplash and BlacKKKlansman, production outfit Blumhouse is best known for being responsible for some of the most-talked-about horror films in recent memory. Here's what founder/head honcho Jason Blum has to say about some of his biggest hits.

Paranormal Activity (2009)

This ultra-low-budget haunted house horror revitalised the "found footage" genre arguably popularised by The Blair Witch Project and spurred multiple sequels. It put Blumhouse on the map and established its profitable model of letting film-makers run wild with less money up front and more creative freedom. "I think [Paranormal Activity] worked because it was so unnerving," says Blum. "It just really got under people's skin in a way that a movie hadn't done in a long, long time."

Blumhouse is the production company behind several horror movie hits, like Jordan Peele's Get Out. Photo / Supplied
Blumhouse is the production company behind several horror movie hits, like Jordan Peele's Get Out. Photo / Supplied

Insidious (2011) 
 
Director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell moved away from the viscerality of their breakout hit Saw with this slow-burn domestic chiller. "It's like a throwback. No one had seen that kind of [horror] movie in a long time. The drama was really good: Mum and Dad lose their kid, and they have to get their kid back - that's a great set-up for a horror. There were like, a million copycats, including James, who borrowed from himself with The Conjuring."

The Purge (2013)

Ethan Hawke starred in this violent thriller about a near-future America where all crime is legal for one day a year. "Definitely the movie that changed the company the most. And the [project] I have the most affinity towards and kind of had the best time on, because my best friend [Hawke], who I'd been trying to put in a horror movie forever, who always said 'no', finally agreed to be in one."

Get Out (2017)

Jordan Peele's zeitgeist-capturing social horror was nominated for four Oscars (including Best Picture), with Peele winning Best Screenplay. "I think about the screening at Sundance. No one knew what to expect and no one was sure about the movie, even when it was finished. Then it was very clear we were going to be in for a wild ride. I didn't know how wild it would become. The other thing I think about is rehearsing my Oscar speech, which I did not get to do."

Halloween (2018)

It was Blum's idea to recruit arthouse-leaning director David Gordon Green for this direct sequel to the original 1978 Halloween. Two follow-ups are currently in the works. "Out of 150 films we've done, Halloween was the most difficult film to get off the ground, for reasons having to deal with the rights. It was a mess. In the beginning, when you start producing, every movie seems like it's gonna fall apart and then after you've been doing it for a while, that doesn't happen anymore. But Halloween, there was one point where I was like, 'Wow, we have invested all this money and it's just not going to happen.' But it did."

If you're in danger now:

• Phone the police on 111 or ask friends or neighbours to ring for you;

• Run outside and head for where there are other people;

• Scream for help so your neighbours can hear you;

• Take the children but don't stop to get anything else.

Where to get help or more information:

• Women's Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 - 0800 refuge or 0800 733 843

• Shine: Free national helpline 9am- 11pm daily - 0508 744 633

• It's Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450

• Shakti: Specialist cultural services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584

• Ministry of Justice:

• National Network of Stopping Violence:

• White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate male violence towards women.