THE INVISIBLE MAN
Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman, Oliver Jackson-Cohen
Writer, Director: Leigh Whannell
“He said that wherever I went, he would find me. Walk right up to me, and I wouldn’t be able to see him.”
Imagine being blind in reverse. Instead of being unable to see the world, the world is unable to see you. This is how the horror of the invisible man is explained by H.G. Wells in his 1897 novel The Invisible Man. The nightmarish allure of this unique concept has inspired several versions of the story in both literature and film since its original publication. The recent film bearing the title is a brilliantly terrifying iteration that gives a modern twist to the classic tale.
Cecilia Kass, played by Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale, Us), is trapped in a relationship with emotionally and physically abusive boyfriend Adrian Griffin, played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen (The Haunting of Hill House, Emerald City), who also happens to be a brilliant tech entrepreneur. When Cecilia escapes from Adrian in the dead of night and makes it to the safety of a friend’s house, she initially plans to enjoy her newfound liberation, especially after discovering that Adrian has taken his own life and gifted her $5 million. Cecilia finds that fresh horrors await her, however, as it soon becomes apparent that Adrian is alive and using a new invention (invisibility) designed specifically to terrorize her.
A leading inventor in the field of optics, Adrian takes revenge on Cecilia by using his invisibility to make her seem crazy in the eyes of her loved ones. Not content with just making her family and friends distrust her, Adrian also commits heinous crimes for which he frames Cecilia. Near the end of the conflict between the ex-lovers, when Cecilia is at her most abandoned, broken, and grieving state, Adrian offers to end his reign of terror if Cecilia will agree to come back to him and give birth to his child. It’s not much of a deal, and Cecilia not only rejects it but also hatches a scheme to defeat her abuser — which leads to a satisfying plot twist.
As the story of a woman’s refusal to be gaslighted by both society and her abuser, the film is an excellent tribute to the #MeToo era. Elisabeth Moss’s heroine character in The Invisible Man (2020) is especially refreshing when compared to a slew of films, such as The Phantom of the Opera (2004), Twilight (2008), and Fifty Shades of Grey (2015), aimed at a female audience that romanticize stalking and abusive behavior.
Some might argue that films which portray revenge as the antidote to abuse are not appropriate expressions of feminism. However, in the little bits and pieces of information we glean from Cecilia, we get the sense that she entered the relationship with Adrian genuinely enough and hoped to work things out before being forced to flee. Even when being stalked by Adrian in his invisible form, Cecilia wants nothing more than to be left alone and assure the safety of her loved ones. All this to say, I do not see The Invisible Man as a crass revenge story, which is where some #MeToo-themed movies have aimed — for instance, Gone Girl (2014). Cecilia’s decision to put a final end to Adrian’s crimes is born from a will for self-defense and sense of responsibility for those close to her whom Adrian has hurt.
I really cannot stress enough how phenomenal Elisabeth Moss is in this film. Her performance creates a believable character and adds to the already heavy anticipation of a film that will keep you on the edge of your seat. A strong point in the story’s development is that the audience never gets to see much firsthand evidence of the abusive relationship prior to Cecilia’s decision to run away. Everything we need to know about Adrian comes from Cecilia’s account, and his personality remains mysterious until the very end.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Director Leigh Whannell (Insidious: Chapter 3, Upgrade) intentionally made the decision, despite criticism, to begin the movie with Cecilia’s flight and to let the audience fill in the blanks as to the nature of Adrian’s character. This story structure, combined with Elisabeth Moss’s acting, creates a keenly suspenseful drama by inviting the viewer to empathize with Cecilia’s anxiety, vulnerability, and ultimately her courage in the presence of an invisible enemy. I think it is safe to assume that The Invisible Man will be one of the best horror films of 2020.