After seeing the trailer for Leigh Whannel’s The Invisible Man, I was super skeptical about “monster” being updated to an abusive partner — do we really need to amplify a real fear that many women are experiencing on a daily basis? As an abuse survivor, I was also wary that a story like this would be exploitative, especially when written and directed by a man.
Even almost halfway through the film, I was worried that it was going in a direction that would make me hate the story — but thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Whannel turns the story around with a terrifying action sequence which clarifies the arc, and follows it up with a shocking moment I absolutely did NOT see coming.
This version of the classic Universal Monster is told from the perspective of his victim: Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss), who is forced to plan a midnight escape from her abusive boyfriend, Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen): an EXTREMELY rich and EXTREMELY brilliant engineer. With the help of her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer), Cecilia finds a safe space at the home of police officer James Lanier (Aldis Hodge), and quickly becomes friends with him and his daughter, Sydney (Storm Reid).
It’s not long before some shocking news arrives: Adrian has committed suicide, and he’s made Cecilia the sole heir of his fortune. There’s a brief moment of celebration for C & her friends – she’s truly free of Adriana’s control, and she can use the money to restart her career and also help James and Sydney — and then shit goes sideways, fast.
Someone Cecilia can’t see starts fucking things up for her; starting a fire in the kitchen while she’s cooking; messing with her medication; removing important work examples before an interview – it’s almost as if Adrian is gaslighitng her from beyond the grave. As the incidents escalate into violence, Cecilia realizes the behavior is VERY familiar and she investigates to find signs that Adrian may still be alive. From that point on, the movie goes full throttle as C tries to prove her theory, outsmart Adrian, and save the lives of her friends.
This movie is definitely filled with triggers: There’s a harrowing sequence of invisible Adrian throwing Cecelia around a kitchen that is brutal to watch, though I found it easier to distance myself from it because I couldn’t physically see the abuser. There’s also the thing I find most frightening: a woman being labeled as hysterical and mentally ill, because no one will believe she’s being tormented. The view that she’s causing all of the damage to herself and lying about her abuse. It’s fucking CHILLING.
I do think that because Whannel talked in-depth with Moss about the character and her motivations, and really took the time to learn what it’s like for women in abusive relationships, that none of those things come across as unnecessary or exploitative in the film. Coupled with its extremely satisfying ending, I’m down with this reimagining of The Invisible Man as a monster of toxic masculinity and privilege and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie — even more so the second time around.
I also want to add that it’s so goddamn refreshing to see a friendship between a man and a woman on screen, without it becoming romantic. Ce & James grow close, but there’s never a vibe that it’s more than just them caring for each other. NICELY done.
Also THAT SCORE. Composer Benjamin Wallfisch has created a relentless soundtrack, which starts out subtly, then builds as the intensity of each sequence ramps up.
If you’ve been hesitant to see this one, I do think it’s absolutely worth a watch.
Here’s a breakdown of the Blu-ray bonus features:
FEATURE COMMENTARY WITH WRITER/DIRECTOR LEIGH WHANNELL
Having only one person do film commentary is a serious challenge, but Whannell does a pretty great job keeping the momentum going as you watch and listen. Behind-the-scenes nerds will love this commentary, because he provides TONS of detail about the production – including finding props, locations, and special F/X details. I particularly appreciated the breakdown of how difficult it was to make a neighborhood in Australia feel like it was actually in San Francisco — as well as his tale of the turbulent helicopter trip taken to get those establishing SF shots. There are maybe a couple of jokes that don’t seem to land as well as he thinks they do (typical when you’re talking to yourself for two hours), but he does seem like a charming and funny guy.
I don’t know how anyone would ever be able to edit anything that Elisabeth Moss does out of their movie, because she’s so fantastic in every. single. scene. Interestingly, a lot of the more intense scenes you see in the trailer were trimmed out of the film and have landed here. They absolutely don’t need to be in the film, and I think the story benefits from them being excised – but they’re still great to watch.
This featurette is a little bit of a deeper dive on the process of Moss finding the character of Cecilia, and how she worked with Whannel to make sure her work was a true representation of an abuse survivor. Honestly, I’m a much bigger fan of Whannel now — knowing that he took the time to listen and asked for a woman’s opinion of how someone who had experienced domestic abuse would actually be affected.
Whannel explains how and why he wanted to bring this story to the screen, including some more production and behind-the-scenes details.
A deeper dive into the characters in the movie and the actors who portrayed them; featuring interviews with Whannel and the cast.
Interviews with the cast and Whannel about updating the character of the Invisible Man; playing on the classic original character, but updating it to include a current, real fear. This is short, but interesting!