The Overbearing Paranoia of ‘Resurrection’ and ‘The Invisible Man’
By Nuha Hassan
The following contains spoilers for Resurrection.
In the horror genre, tropes are used to identify and heighten the notion of fear and anxiety, and when it comes to the nature of the disbelieved women, the narratives change. The social stigmas surrounding women’s safety and how their voices are denied credibility are due to the patriarchy’s embroilment in gendered connotations. The Cassandra trope is used as a basis to re-evaluate societal prejudices and stereotypes. While looking at the foundation of the trope and how it is perceived in the horror genre, the trope largely exploits the Cassandra figure and presents how modern society and media transform anxieties, fears, domestic violence, and gaslighting.
Cassandra’s ancient roots begin in classic Greek literature. Her story demonstrates the literal embodiment of women who are too emotional and too hysterical to be taken seriously — to be believed. In Alice Payne’s article* about identifying the Cassandra trope and how it originally began, she writes, “According to Aeschylus, Cassandra was loved by the Greek god, Apollo, who shared his gift of prophecy with the priestess, believing that in return she would yield herself to him. Cassandra betrayed Apollo, however, and refused his sexual advances. In retaliation, Apollo cursed her never to be believed.” Thus, her prophecies were slandered, she was met with derision and hate, and her entire existence left her with a lack of credibility.
Furthermore, Payne explains that Cassandra failed to make her prophecies heard and despite her honesty, she was never acknowledged for the things she foretold. The two characteristics by which the Cassandra figure is defined are that the figure can perceive danger while others cannot, and she warns people of the risk, but she is ignored. These implications are not only in classical Greek literature, but it goes beyond the texts. These two core principles are not outdated, since they are transformed into a modern characterization and the continuation of gaslighting, female silencing, and lack of reliability are ever-present. Cassandra is the woman who speaks the truth, however, those around her never believe her. These actions are analyzed in Andrew Semans’ Resurrection and Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man, where men are the monsters who haunt the female characters.
Resurrection’s plot begins when Margaret (Rebecca Hall) is at a conference and sees a familiar face in the distance. Frantic, she runs out of the room and races home to check whether or not her 17-year-old daughter Abbie (Grace Kaufman) is safe. Subsequently, Margaret sees this man at the mall where she is shopping with Abbie and then she sees him at the park and confronts him. David (Tim Roth) denies knowing who she is but says her name and flashes a terrifying smile with a missing tooth. Her perfect, routine life turns upside down when a man from her past comes back to stalk and control her, and she would do anything to protect her daughter from him.
This film begins like any other horror film, and it slowly begins to unravel Margaret’s paranoia and how it is justified. It not only explores the two core principles of the Cassandra trope but also looks at how relationships are controlling and manipulative. Abbie and her colleague, with whom she has an affair, are the only two people in Margaret’s life. When Margaret makes Abbie more precautious about her surroundings and stranger danger, she doesn’t believe her mother. Abbie believes that her mother is having an episode and recommends that she should meet someone. Margaret double-checks the doors, installs more locks, and reminds Abbie to text her every hour of every day — this paranoia reaches a level that is disturbingly dark. As Resurrection continues to perceive Abbie’s lack of trust in Margaret and the reaction to her warnings, the film slowly shows how the Cassandra figure is constantly slandered and mistreated by her daughter.
Horror functions as a mirror of real-life anxieties, and the audience watches as Margaret’s frantic and panicked nature completely pushes her beyond the limit. These depictions of male power patriarchy are shown in a scene where Margaret reports David to the police. The Cassandra trope is present here as the police officer begins to interrogate her but ultimately dismisses everything because her complaints weren’t enough to take any action. Margaret, the Cassandra figure, is not only dismissed but minimized for her delusions in this scene due to the abuse she went through with David. This continuation of her dismissed reliability is seen throughout the film and within one scene that explains the extent of David’s abuse.
The film depicts a controlling and manipulative relationship, and in this case, it’s Margaret’s history with David. Their relationship is rooted in a misogynistic ideology of male power and privilege, and in an eight-minute monologue scene, Margaret explains grooming, abuse, and torture. David’s abuse of Margaret starts small. He made her feel “important and appreciated.” Then he began to control her by making her cook, clean, and obey his every order, and these acts would be rewarded with a form of “kindness.” These acts would turn extreme to the point where if Margaret made a mistake, she would have to put out cigarette butts on her skin, and things would only get worse.
When Margaret gives birth to their son, she becomes extra protective of him. One day, when she leaves the baby with David to run some errands, he puts the baby in the oven and kills him. When Margaret returns home, David claims that the baby is safe in his stomach. The film utilizes the Cassandra trope and uses Margaret as the figure to show how the narrative enhances abuse. While Margaret knows and understands how David operates, her warnings are pushed aside and only acknowledged as a part of a psychological problem that’s triggered due to years of David’s abuse. What is worse is that she never tells Abbie or her colleague about what is happening to her, and they see a different story from the outside.
David’s power to control her goes beyond stalking, and even after she claims to not be in control of him anymore, there is no escape. When Margaret follows David to a diner, he tries to turn the situation around and makes it seem like she’s the one stalking him. He denies everything he has done and comes up with a story that she was the one who introduced Abbie to him. Then he brings the “kindness” back and orders Margaret to walk barefoot to her office every day until he says it’s over. The next day, she tries to resist but ultimately gives in.
The Cassandra trope not only observes the unreliability of female voices in horror but also explores the versions of the Cassandra and Apollo figures within Margaret and David. Apollo’s control over Cassandra’s voice and her refusal to submit to his sexual needs left him angry and he continued to discredit her in every way possible. After Margaret leaves David, he comes back to haunt her and mentions that their dead baby is still with him. This makes Margaret angrier, as she knows he murdered their baby. David uses their dead baby as a way to have control and power over her, while she breaks down in a sweat, leading Abbie and her colleague to try to save her. But she refuses help. Whether this is due to her guilt about her dead baby or about their refusal to believe her story (a reason why she never tells her side of the story to Abbie), it speaks to how women are never believed, or rather, in this case, dismissed for trying to protect their loved ones.
In Payne’s article, she writes about how the act of female silencing demonstrates the Cassandra myth. “By reading these narratives through the Cassandra myth, [Rebecca] Solnit explains,** it is possible to highlight the way in which women have been historically punished for refusing men and then further punished for speaking out against the subsequent acts of violence, which occur following the initial refusal.” Whannell’s The Invisible Man uses the horror genre to further explore patriarchal ideologies and uses Elisabeth Moss’ Cecilia as a modern version of the Cassandra figure.
In the middle of the night, Cecilia Kass plans to escape her abusive and controlling boyfriend Andrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and leave him for good. Cecilia quietly slips out of bed and disables every single alarm he installed in the high-tech security cliffside home to make sure she doesn’t escape. She dashes out into the night and her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) picks her up and drops her off at the home of their friend James (Aldis Hodge), who is a policeman and offers her protection. Two weeks later, Cecilia receives the news that Adrian has committed suicide and arranged his multi-million-dollar fortune to be given to her by his lawyer brother (Michael Dorman). Even though Adrian’s death means that Cecilia is safe, she feels watched by an unknown presence. When strange occurrences start happening — a grease fire, a missing portfolio, sabotaging a job interview — it begins to turn violent to the point where she is a victim of a harmful, manipulative campaign of gaslighting and revenge.
Just like Margaret, Cecelia is a representative of the Cassandra trope, and she is aware of Adrian’s powers and capabilities as an optics tech. When Cecilia tries to convince James and Emily that Adrian might have staged his suicide as an act of revenge, her words lack sense. Even Adrian’s brother undermines her by asking, “Do you know what she’s babbling about?” and tries to turn it around and play the victim by revealing that his brother was also controlling and abusive towards him. Her knowledge of Adrian haunting her is negated because her voice is denied credibility, and when she tries to find evidence of his existence, her words are meaningless and don’t make any sense to the other characters. The Cassandra trope is already in play, and the figure herself has been known to talk or babble about meaningless, yet truthful accusations.
Furthermore, Payne writes, “Cassandra is a figure whose reliability is constantly scrutinized because she is deemed too mad, crazy, or frantic to be a trustworthy speaker.” Adrian’s reign of terror continues when he harms James’ daughter, Syndey (Storm Reid), by hitting her across the face while Cecilia is right beside her. Then Adrian, disguised as Cecilia, sends an email to Emily where she wishes she was dead. Just like Cassandra, Cecilia is now isolated from her loved ones, her voice lost under a facade of madness. After a series of events, which display an overbearing paranoia and emotional vulnerability, she gets sent to a treatment center for her wellbeing, but even that doesn’t stop Adrian from following her there.
The cycle of the disbelieved woman is a rampant problem in today’s patriarchal society. The problem that a woman can be “too emotional” and “too hysterical” is simply a misogynistic way of looking at it. Just like in Cecilia and Margaret’s stories, this kind of behavior encourages a culture of gaslighting and silencing under the assumption that their emotions have been compromised. This leads to another issue where the women’s problems aren’t heard or acknowledged, a stigma among women.
Whannell and Semans incorporate the Cassandra trope within the narratives of their movies. Resurrection and The Invisible Man explore the patriarchal roots of male power and privilege, which just like the female characters, harm women in real life. Both of the male characters know their counterparts’ weaknesses and how they can manipulate and control them. Both of their victims are traumatized by their actions, and they experience all sorts of violence such as physical harm, abuse, and gaslighting. The silence and the act of control over Cecilia and Margaret make their voices unheard and their actions purposeless, no matter how hard they try to convince those around them. Katherin McCain writes,*** “Proof isn’t necessary in the face of a potential threat because honestly, is that proof really worth more than her life?” In the case of Cecilia, Margaret, and Cassandra, all of them suffer the consequences due to the perceived notion of hysterical women under the patriarchy. 🩸
* Alice Payne, “Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man Discussing Narratives of Domestic Abuse and Gaslighting through the Cassandra Myth” (DeMontford University, 2021)
** Rebecca Solnit, “Cassandra Among the Creeps” (Harper’s Magazine, 2014)
*** Katherin McCain “Cassandra Undone: Unpacking the Disbelieved Woman in Horror” (2018)
Nuha Hassan is a film/tv writer and reviewer. She is a Staff Writer at Film Cred and Off Colour Org. Apart from writing about film, she is a video editor at Dead Central. She studied Master of Media at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia.
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