H.G. Wells’ novel The Invisible Man, one of the pillars of science fiction, depicts the world through the eyes of Griffin, a mad scientist who learned how to make himself invisible. He terrorizes a local town with his newfound ability, leading to the destruction of his own sanity and that of those around him.
Blumhouse Production's latest thriller of the same name, flips the perspective on its head and follows the story of one of his victims instead of focusing on Adrian Griffin. Rather than portraying Griffin as an isolated, insane scientist, he's an abusive, controlling boyfriend to Cecelia, played by a dazzling Elisabeth Moss in a career–topping role. When Cecelia finally escapes, Griffin (Oliver Jackson–Cohen) kills himself and leaves her five million dollars. However, she soon believes she’s being watched. Eventually, she pleads for the world to believe her when she says Adrian isn’t dead, he managed to turn invisible, and is now watching her.
The inherent terror of feeling like you’re being watched is something The Invisible Man taps into with acute precision. In moments where Cecelia finally feels safe, living with friends James (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid), the camera cuts from an intimate shot to a perspective down the hallway. Suddenly, not only do we realize that Cecelia is being spied on, but that we the audience have become stalkers as well.
However, the film's scares are far from based only in Adrian Griffin’s invisibility and his stalking of Cecelia. Fundamentally, The Invisible Man is a movie about abuse, women not being believed, and the isolation that follows an attempt to have the world listen. Cecelia, time and time again, tells those closest to her she’s seen signs of Adrian—how a chair compresses like he's sitting in it or how she sees two footprints on a bedsheet. Every time they look at her like she’s lost her mind. When Cecelia explains how Adrian always got the upper hand on her, she says, “He always does this. He makes me feel like I’m the crazy one.”
This fear of being seen as crazy is what makes The Invisible Man as affecting as it is. We watch as more and more impossible things begin to occur—Adrian setting her up for disaster, sending cruel emails to her sister and drugging her to make her faint before a job interview. Even as the things Griffin makes it seem like Cecelia does become even more out of character, everyone chalks it up to her crumbling mental state. However, it's clearly not Adrian who makes her lose her grasp on reality—it's that no one tries to listen to her.
Even so, the horrors of an abusive relationship are just as frightening as those science fiction elements. To have a film so starkly portray an abusive situation is in itself jaw–dropping, but because the abuse itself is never shown—only its effects on Cecelia and her PTSD symptoms to follow—the movie does not use abuse as a plot device. Instead, it's a thoughtful, careful portrayal of a very real situation films so often shy away from or only show for shock value.
Most of all, Cecelia herself does not feel like a hollow mouthpiece for any political message. She is not a patented “strong independent woman,” nor is she a caricature. She is perfectly human—often frightened, yet firm in her stance that she knows what’s truly going on. Moss’ performance is incredible, depicting a woman trying desperately to be believed when she has no way to prove what she’s saying is true. When characters around her start to think that Adrian is actually not the bad guy after all, Cecelia can only hold her ground and insist what she experienced at his hands was real.
The Invisible Man is a visceral, cathartic thriller that could only be produced today, in a world where women are most afraid of not being believed for the true abuse that they face. It, along with movies like Promising Young Woman or Run Sweetheart Run, seek to make a new genre of horror—a movie about the terror of men treating women terribly, and the result, which is women getting revenge in whatever way they can.