'The Invisible Man' is a thriller that hones in on the horror of psychological abuse
Early on in The Invisible Manyou’re asked to make a judgment on Cecilia Kass, a young architect and the story’s protagonist depicted masterfully by Elisabeth Moss. It’s a choice with genre-bending implications: are you currently watching a horror film where the specter of Kass’s abusive boyfriend has returned from the dead to haunt her? Or are you seeing the world of the film through her eyes: a visceral psychological thriller by way of sci-fi slight of hand - that weaves through the very real ways living humans enact violence on one another.
It becomes clear, and light spoilers here, that we are squarely in the passenger’s seat of the second option. It’s then where the horror on screen switches not from watching Kass try to survive attacks from a supernatural poltergeist but instead try to avoid the possessive and violent wrath of a man she once considered her partner.
Almost every character in the film is put in a position to make the same judgment call - the result is that at some point either explicitly or indirectly - they each tells Moss that the violence she is facing is in her head. It may be a lingering trauma yes, but one she can overcome by simply keeping a stiff upper lip or mastering the short walk to the mailbox on the curb. As the stakes Kass face increase, and her suffering compounds, the terrifying aspects in the film hone in on the ensemble of supporting characters who ignore, minimize and punish Kass instead of listening to her pleas for help.
To compliment The Invisible Man on its use of metaphor might seem a tad simplistic - and yet it’s a remarkable, and jarring, way to tell a story that strikes at the truth of how domestic abuse manifests in the real world. Those who have not experienced it, may think domestic abuse only happens behind closed doors away from the watchful eyes of bystanders. The Invisible Man, in response, uses the antagonist’s titular capabilities to torture and enact violence on Kass in the open. He follows her to restaurants, to offices and to job interviews. He lashes out when she’s with strangers and loved ones. He doesn't look to just physically harm her but to keep her isolated and under a perverse control. We understand through our antagonist that for perpetrators breaking a victim’s mind and will is their primary priority.
The film too also finds ways to circle back to the original judgment it asks of you. Ending with the same intentionally vague he-said, she-said scenario society has conjured up to dominate the majority of cases where women speak out on their abusers. In doing so it gives film YouTubers something to over analyze in their “ending explain” videos which, of course helps to prove the film’s point: until we learn to start with the victim’s perspective as a baseline we’ll simply continue to live in a very real horror film of our own creation.
The Invisible Man is in wide release across Toronto.