There’s a reason so many horror movies center on female trauma: Because navigating life as a woman is already a horror story. Add a few monsters, a paranormal or science fiction twist, and suddenly it’s entertaining. But the baseline terror is already in place. To be a woman is to be silenced, belittled, humiliated, taunted, and undervalued on a daily basis. You learn to keep it bottled in. To pretend everything is okay. You learn to navigate the world under the guise of safety, when really you’re terrified all the time. So you make your pain invisible.
In Leigh Whannell’s
Cecilia doesn’t feel safe, even free from Adrian’s grasp. She hides away in the quaint home of her friend James (Aldis Hodge), a Bay Area cop and single dad to Sydney (Storm Reid). They comfort her, wrap her in normalcy, but years of abuse have made her paranoid; she can’t step outside without a stabbing panic, she worries that her laptop’s webcam will give away her location, and every knock at the door sends a chill to her core. Adrian, a successful expert in the field of optics, is a master manipulator. Cecilia doesn’t believe for a moment that he isn’t in control, or that he’s somehow unaware of her whereabouts. Abusive men like him see everything.
But then comes relief. Cecilia’s sister, Emily (Harriet Dyer) arrives at James’ one day with some bittersweet news: Adrian is dead by suicide. They visit his brother Tom (Michael Dorman) at his law office where Cecilia learns she’s inherited $5 million from Adrian’s estate—money she immediately puts into a fund for Sydney’s college. Finally, Cecilia can breathe, and can protect those she loves who couldn’t protect her. But even in death, Adrian’s got his hooks in her psyche. And soon, a series of mysterious events disrupt the news of his death. Cecilia comes to believe he’s not really dead, and used his optics technology to feign invisibility so that he might terrorize her still.
That invisibility metaphor is brilliantly deployed in the film. Cecilia feels Adrian’s presence in James’ home, is assaulted by this unseen force, haunted by it. Her relationship with Emily is destroyed by an email sent from her account that she never wrote. Her proximity to Sydney is tested by a moment of violence. Her career prospects are foiled when her portfolio goes missing at a job interview. Cecilia is made to look like the crazy, hysterical one. And at times, we in the audience have to ask: Is there really an invisible man, or is this what psychosis does to abused women?
The beauty of horror films is that both can be true. And
It’s all sold by a truly stunning central performance from Elisabeth Moss, who has made a career of playing women under the influence of societal expectations, a blunt instrument of feminine pain. Her work in films like
It’s appropriate that