‘Invisible Man’ Director on How He Crafted the Horror Reboot Around a Domestic Abuse Survivor

“It was shocking to find that fight-or-flight mode that women have to live by,” Leigh Whannell tells TheWrap

(Spoiler alert: This story contains minor spoilers. Do not read on if you haven’t seen “The Invisible Man.”)

When “The Invisible Man” writer and director Leigh Whannell figured out his screenplay was shaping up to be a story about domestic abuse, he knew he’d have to do a lot of research to accurately depict a woman’s perspective.

“The film told me it wanted it to go there — I didn’t go into this saying, right, I am going to tell an ‘Invisible Man’ story about domestic violence,” Whannell told TheWrap. “It was more that I started with this character, and thought, what makes him scary? It’s the absence of him. He’s unknown. That led to me to a woman escaping a relationship, and one thing led to another. As soon as I had made that decision, I had to research that. I talked to counselors at domestic violence shelters in L.A., and I interviewed female friends of mine.”

He added: “One thing I found eye-opening for me and begged to be alluded to in the movie was that all of my friends said, separate from each other, that they would walk back to their cars with their keys between their fingers, ready to go, ready to stab at somebody to fight back. It was shocking to find that fight-or-flight mode that women have to live by. On a conscious level, you’re aware that women have to be afraid, but it’s another thing to have close friends tell you they are afraid of someone coming out of the shadows. And I felt that tied in with the metaphor of the Invisible Man — this unseen figure who’s looking at you and following you.”

Elisabeth Moss stars in “The Invisible Man” as Cecilia, a woman who escapes her abusive husband and seeks shelter at a friend’s house. He takes his own life and leaves her with his fortune, but she soon suspects his death was a hoax as an unseen entity is haunting her.

Recently, there’s been discussion about how men can’t write female roles, or can’t accurately hone in on the complexities of female relationships. Whannell said he was aware of that, and worked hand-in-hand with Moss to make sure everything he wrote was something she agreed with.

“I have to hand credit to Elisabeth Moss — she was my partner in crime and my collaborator on this,” Whannell added. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable proceeding without her stamp of approval, and we would often dissect the dialogue. I felt more comfortable that she had been over it, because she was providing the female perspective on this story that I couldn’t provide.”

While he was writing the character of Cecilia, he never envisioned a specific actress. But soon, it became clear to him that Moss would be the only actress who could convey what he needed in this sci-fi horror film. Plus,

“I realized in reading the first draft that the entire movie rested on Cecilia, and there’s a shortlist of actors that can carry a movie like that,” he explained. “One thing we know about Elisabeth Moss is that she can deliver that. She has that authentic intensity and she says a lot with her eyes. She tends to play a lot of characters who are forbidden from speaking because of patriarchy that’s preventing it, and she does a lot of talking with a look.”

Whannell looked at adult thrillers like “Fatal Attraction, “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” and “Misery” for inspiration, and loved films that were able to deliver scares without too much CGI. In fact, for his film, Whannell tried to go back to the “old-school” way of haunting the audience.

“I wanted to make a chamber piece and get back to this simple character-driven horror film,” Whannell explained. “It’s one thing to write a script and another to execute it, and we had countless production meetings to see how Elisabeth Moss was going to be thrown around the kitchen without anyone there. We never settled on one approach. We didn’t say, This can all be handled with CGI. It’s CGI, a stunt performer, a green bodysuit performer, with wires pulling Elisabeth around. Then there were the old school practical effects, where a crouching effect guy is pulling a door on a string.”

Whannell said they shot the film, which had a $7 million price tag, for 40 days, which is the longest shoot he’s ever done.

“It’s a low budget film but we shot it in a way that was controlled, composed, and there was nothing scrappy about it,” he added. “There were two shots in the whole movie where the camera was handheld.”

“The Invisible Man” also stars Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid and Oliver Jackson-Cohen. It currently holds a score of 91 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and will hit theaters this Friday.

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