This update of HG Wells’s classic sci-fi tale smartly aligns itself with the spied-upon rather than the story’s monstrous invisible eye, flipping the original perspective. Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) flees an abusive long-term relationship with tech mogul and “world leader in the field of optics” Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), leaving their modernist glass house and taking refuge with childhood friend-turned-cop James (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter, Sydney (Storm Reid), in a leafy San Francisco suburb.
News of Adrian’s death should give her peace, but a traumatised and paranoid Cecilia is still haunted by her abuser and unable to rebuild her life. A well-designed sound mix hints at an unseen presence; spooky coincidences begin to accumulate, such as a pan spontaneously catching alight and a door appearing to open itself. Cecilia is being stalked and nobody will believe her.
Moss has played this survivor role before (Top of the Lake, The Handmaid’s Tale), and seems at home here. Crucially, she’s convincing and serious, even when she is essentially in combat with herself in the scenes that pit Cecilia against her invisible ex. Writer-director Leigh Whannell (the underrated Upgrade) styles her as a Hitchcockian blond. Vertigo seems a particular reference point, given the Bay Area setting, Benjamin Wallfisch’s string-led Bernard Herrmann-inspired score and a shot of the back of Cecilia’s head, hair worn in a spiral bun, which recalls Kim Novak’s Madeleine, another woman under surveillance.
Subverting the original text’s point of view allows Whannell to privilege his female protagonist while continuing to explore the novel’s theme of untrammelled power. Paul Verhoeven’s 2000 trashy horror-thriller Hollow Man took this idea to an even darker place by suggesting that male voyeurism and sexual violence were its obvious consequences. Whannell exposes the same problem from a different angle, revealing the way women’s concerns are so often rendered invisible.
Source: The Guardian