Review: The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man is a brilliantly terrifying update to the original concept. You can watch this film as a horror movie or as comment on the insidious nature of abuse and how it affects the victim. Both are completely valid for Leigh Whannell’s 2020 psychological horror. The movie follows a woman (Ceilia Kass) who after finally escaping her mental and physical abuser (Adrien) suspects that he is actually still controlling her every move, using invisibility. As a horror what makes this movie so good is that we never know where the monster is which makes every scene terrifying- the usual pattern of high alert suspense and then relief is lacking here, you are constantly on high alert. This aspect of the film is important because it’s exactly how emotional abuse victims can feel. Psychological abuse is not often seen by those who are not involved or even the victim them self until later on- it is an invisible crime. Throughout the film we’re unsure when a physical attack will occur- they come out of thin air: the slap or the knife to the throat comes without warning or reason. These terrifying parts of the film help us understand the reality of abuse. Whannell is rewriting the classic 1933 film of the same name. That film is also terrifying and radical in a different way but its interesting to see how the advances in technology today make the prospect of invisibility a lot more believable.

The plot of the movie gives us a detailed account of how relationship abuse can work. As an invisible man Adrien cuts off Cecilia from her loved ones and friends to get her alone- so he can begin the abuse again. With the added use of invisibility he is able to do this much more effectively but even Cecilia comments that he is using the same behaviour he did before he faked his death. By the end of the movie Cecilia is only able to stay safe by being in a public place, she uses other people as protection because Adrien cannot attack her with others around. Interestingly this method of protection is learnt from her experience during the abuse she endured. Cecilia uses the same survival techniques that helped her survive the abuse and trauma she suffered before. The reveal that Adrien’s brother knows that he is alive, is gut wrenching for us all. Also it’s important to look at the use of pregnancy within the film. By forcing her into pregnancy by swapping out her birth control Adrien is attempting to take the final part of her autonomy away from her. He wants complete control and by her own omission it is the final way of binding Cecilia to him forever as he knows she most likely would not leave a child alone to his abuse. By making this film a comment on physical and mental abuse there is an added dimension of fear to the narrative. It places the audience in the position of an abused and traumatised victim who does not know when her abuse will come next. Elisabeth Moss’ performance as Ceilia is brilliant as she plays a woman who slowly becomes more and more desperate as no one believes her. In a similar way that many abuse victims may be made to feel delusional when they highlight the abuse, Cecilia is perceived as crazy whenever she tries to explain what has happened to her. She is forced to prove what’s happening to her when no one else can see it. Much like no one had any idea that Adrien was a bad person or that he was capable of the abuse he inflicted on her.

Adrien as a character is an extremely complex monster. He is foremost a rich and powerful man. His privilege allows him the means to find new and powerful ways to abuse Ceilia all the time. His chilling speech that he will not hurt her but instead hurt those she cares about is particularly telling. He is gaslighting her into believing that she is responsible for all his acts of violence. This violence is part of the mental abuse many abusers also use- that the victim is responsible for their abuse. The physical acts of violence in the film are seen by everyone else as actually being done by Ceilia- just as Adrien wants them to be. In their final dinner Adrien’s use of double meaning tells her that it was actually him abusing her the whole time but only Ceilia knows the codes he’s using. The one phrase is unique to them and to the cop listening outside seems meaningless as evidence. This police officer is a telling reminder that anyone can be witnessing abuse and not know it. As a monster it’s not his invisibility that is most villainous but how he uses it and what he does with it.

The film leaves an unnerving portrayal of a very real power dynamic. But what comes across most in this film is Cecilia’s continued resilience. She fights her way through the film despite everything she has been through. I think perhaps this is the most important message of the film; it is not really about the invisible man but instead the invisible woman. Even when no one sees or hears what she’s does- or if they do but refuse to acknowledge it she still has to fight.