Saint Frances tells of the friendship between an insecure young woman and the 6-year-old for which she is employed as a nanny, while The Invisible Man is a horror film recasting the H.G. Wells concept into a stalker narrative.
Saint Frances, the debut feature film by Alex Thompson, written by and starring Kelly O’Sullivan, is not about the famous saint of Assisi. In this case, Frances is a six-year-old girl, and she’s not at all a saint, but does act as a force for good. This gentle, body and soul-affirming feminist film about the undue pressure we put on ourselves is an enjoyable change of pace from the usual.
O’Sullivan plays a 30-something waitress named Bridget who is afraid that time is running out: for a real career, for a meaningful relationship, and for a child, although she’s not sure at all about the latter. She jumps at a job offer as a nanny for Frances, played by Ramona Edith-Williams. Frances is the daughter of a lesbian couple, Maya and Annie. Annie is the breadwinner, while Maya needs a nanny so she can take care of her newborn boy, Wally. This might sound like a lead-up to cuteness, but the screenplay doesn’t go there, opting for a realistic depiction of the relationship between a woman unsure of herself and a fairly ordinary kid, smart and friendly, but with a few behavioral problems.
Surrounding this central story is the depiction of Bridget’s day-to-day life, and here the film treats some things about women’s experience that most movies tend to ignore. Menstruation is given its due as an important recurring event, with blood actually becoming a kind of theme, not treated as humorous or shameful, but casually, as normal, which of course it is. Abortion and breast-feeding also show up in this story, and even more pointedly, there’s the constant anxiety about failure, a message that Bridget has internalized, as so many women have, and that helps make her relatable, so that when she makes mistakes, it doesn’t change our regard for her.
Kelly O’Sullivan, who’s in every scene, brings across her character with aplomb, and then there’s Ramona Williams, an excellent child actor from whom Thompson, the director, inspires a natural performance. The young woman and the little girl find that they care for each other, and in fact Frances provides Bridget with much needed validation. As she says at one point, you can keep trying even when you’re scared. Saint Frances, the film, tells us that we can find family right where we are, if we look for it.
As clearly opposite from that message as one could imagine is The Invisible Man, a horror film with thriller elements from Australian writer-director Leigh Wannel. The plot device is from H.G. Wells, but in all other respects this is not an adaptation of his famous novel.
Elisabeth Moss plays a woman who escapes from a wealthy and extremely abusive boyfriend. The next thing we know, the boyfriend has committed suicide, and left her a huge inheritance. But is he really dead? Some very strange happenings convince her that he’s not, and that he’s found a way to make himself invisible, whereby he torments her and causes mayhem for her and her loved ones. The interesting twist Wannel has put into the story is that the focus is not on the invisible man, but on his victim. Naturally, no one will believe her when she says that she’s being attacked by someone who’s invisible, and this makes her seem, and in some ways behave as, increasingly insane. It’s a stalker story taken to the extreme.
The Invisible Man is a better than average horror film. It’s good at exploiting the fear of what we can’t see. Some of the ideas are ingenious, and there are a few genuinely shocking moments. Within the reality established by the story, there are also some improbabilities, as well as plot holes that I didn’t consider until I thought about it afterwards. But of course the biggest improbability is the existence of an invisible man. In other words, this isn’t realism, so my best advice is to just sit back and enjoy a good scary movie.