CW/TW: Domestic Violence, Violence Against Women
The Invisible Man has been an iconic horror fixture for decades, but this latest iteration of the character infuses tech and terror in a terrifying new way that many domestic violence victims are intimately familiar with. The story revolves around a woman’s (Elisabeth Moss) journey to be free from her boyfriend’s (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) tyrannical control. What elevates this film beyond Lifetime movie-thriller territory is the adeptness of the acting and storytelling. Herein, surveillance technology is the horror of our modern age. Our laptops, smartphones, and tablets are a window for anyone to peer in and spy on our data, know our location, or steal our identity. Imagine if your abuser was technologically proficient enough to manipulate them and cloak themselves in physical invisibility? A chilling premise indeed…
The film is also a masterclass in digital anxiety. Every moment is brimming with tension because the danger is a threat unseen and the camera is utilized superbly to illustrate that the lead character is never alone. The usage of the ‘reflect-tech’ suit for concealment is just the cherry on top of this horrifying sundae. The film also tackles a new frontier that showcases a frightening future for gaslighting, stalking, and online harassment. Throughout the home space, there’s surveillance equipment, motion sensors, alarms, keypad access locks, and more to keep his victim constantly under scrutiny. While invisible, he plants evidence to put her mental state into question and hacks her email to send a defaming letter to a family member that (almost) destroys an emotional, financial, and physical safety net. He leaves no stone unturned to keep her isolated and scared, even when it seems he’s ‘died’. As a result, she’s agoraphobic and attempting to heal from post-traumatic stress throughout the entirety of the film.
She eventually turns the tables on him and utilizes the same technology to end his reign of terror. Prior to this, she only uses her wits, intuition, and savvy to escape or fight him. When she realizes that he’s willing to harm or kill other people just to ‘keep her’, she understands what must be done. Bravely sitting down with the monster, she looks him in the face and tries to find any redeeming human qualities. Finding none, she does what many women have done in domestic violence cases and kills her abuser. As she walks away from him she’s remorseless — and as the end credits begin to roll — she exhales for the first time.
What separates this film from many of its Invisible Man predecessors is its predatory voyeuristic framing. A slight retraction should be added here; Hollow Man (2000) did utilize this technique to terrifying effect. To include, the man who had powers of invisibility in that film was already a creep, to begin with, but his translucence allowed him free reign to indulge in all of his sexually violent fantasies. The film was 20 years ago but its invisible man is frighteningly relevant today. Women have always been leery of men by proxy of the potential for danger; this fear is heightened by reality-horror stories where women know ‘invisible men’, but are ill-equipped with societal agents to help them. Women (and survivors of domestic violence) are intimately familiar with being ignored, placated, or silenced for disrupting the hustle and bustle of everyday life for something as simple as justice.
Films such as The Invisible Man (2020) are explorations of the extremes of toxic masculinity, but it should not be understated that many of the most minute behaviors we overlook are merely incubators for the practice to continue. In truth, Writer-Director Leigh Whannell has broadcast our current capabilities with technology, and those who would abuse its potential to the world — through a screen no less. There’s a definite subtext throughout the film of being fully capable of survival beyond our devices and the import of emotional connections that one cultivates without it. Elisabeth Moss continues to be a tour-de-force actor for the modern age within the cathartic horror genre, i.e., The Handmaid’s Tale and Us. The chilling social commentary is the most petrifying aspect of this film and I cannot recommend it enough. Moreover, the most powerful aspect of this film is our changing cultural awareness surrounding domestic violence and abuse. This is a beautifully transformative time in our collective societal empathy because with or without his technology, we could all see The Invisible Man.