I waited months to see Leigh Whannell’s “The Invisible Man” after the film’s mysterious trailer left me with many questions. Elizabeth Moss’s  haunting look remained plastered in my mind. Upon finally seeing the movie last month, I left the theater feeling both amazed and shaken to my core. A burgeoning horror fan, I am no stranger to psychological thriller — the “monster” of this story was a man, armed with intelligence, wealth and an affinity for power and manipulation.

“Surprise.”

Both the 1897 novel by H. G. Wells and the 1933 horror film (directed by James Whale) center around Griffin, the protagonist who descends into madness after an experiment renders him invisible. In this 2020 reboot, “Griffin” becomes the antagonist, and the events revolve around Cecilia Kass (played by Elisabeth Moss), the woman he seeks to torment.

Cecilia flees her abusive relationship with powerful optics engineer Adrian Griffin (played by a menacing Oliver Jackson-Cohen), and she finally begins a journey of rehabilitation. After she receives a report that Adrian has committed suicide, strange events occur that lead her to believe that he is still alive and stalking her.

The film’s main premise already induces plenty of anxiety, only compounded by the fact that the villain is invisible throughout most of the action.

In providing an exclusive look at the stunt work for the film, Entertainment Insider notes the incredible detail necessary to capture both moments of combat and invisibility. Digital reconstruction rendered Adrian completely invisible, in contrast to the original motion picture, which often featured floating costume pieces to “guide” the audience’s eyes. Adrian “made himself known through violence,” adding to his character’s sinister persona.

This eerie visual quality is exactly why “The Invisible Man” is so terrifying. In the film, the camera often pans to empty space. “When the camera stops, Adrian should be there, but he isn’t,” Entertainment Insider explains. The use of negative and empty space results in palpable unease and ambiguity; stepping into the mind of Cecilia, we too fear something that we cannot see.

Every moment is laced with calculated tension.

The film begins with Cecilia’s escape, a scene that builds in suspense as each agonizing second passes. She slowly removes Adrian’s hand from her waist and carefully rises from the bed. He stirs for a moment before sinking deeper into sleep. The audience exhales in relief with her. Cecilia tip-toes to their shared closet and pulls a black duffle bag from behind a hidden panel. The heartbreaking realization hits: she has been planning this for quite some time, and she is afraid. In that moment, Cecilia’s fear becomes our fear.

After the unimaginable risk she undertakes in order to get away, recounting her trauma and confiding in others, Cecilia faces a tragic reality: no one believes her, even when her abuser explicitly threatens her. She confesses to James, a detective who takes her in after her escape, “he said that wherever I went, he would find me, walk right up to me, and I wouldn’t be able to see him.”

While key signs of abuse are easily identifiable to the audience, no one in Cecilia’s life can see the horror she continues to endure after Adrian’s suspected suicide. Prior to her escape, Cecilia resides in his massive home in the middle of nowhere; the property is affixed with high-tech security and surrounded by tall stone walls. She is completely isolated from her sister and James until she risks her life to escape.

“The Invisible Man” articulates the immense pain derived from the fear of not being believed. Cecilia is rendered defenseless when she’s alone, both physically and mentally. We follow her and see what others do not; and we desperately want her to be saved, especially when it appears that she cannot save herself.

I remember my acute frustration as I watched her abuser’s plan come to fruition, having witnessed the truth with my own eyes. I came to the distressing realization that being on her side as a viewer is not enough.

Elisabeth Moss is a force of nature as Cecilia, capable of drawing the audience’s sympathy even in her darkest moments. Cecilia’s journey is devastating and tumultuous, but Moss does the role justice with honest vulnerability and strength.

Despite her debilitating situation, Cecilia grows stronger throughout the film. She is incredibly selfless, insistent on revealing the truth, and remains strong-witted in the face of defeat. “You’re the jellyfish version of him,” she snaps at Adrian’s brother Tom, who proves to be his brother’s spineless pawn, helping manipulate her in his absence.

“The Invisible Man” never lost my attention for a single second, and I was left breathless for two straight hours. The cast is incredibly talented. I admire that this team handled such a sensitive topic with integrity, without shying away from the horrific reality of abuse. Whannell’s heroine is anything but invisible.

If you or a loved one are the victim of domestic violence, we encourage you to seek help by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). You are not alone.

Alexus Coney | alexus.coney@yale.edu