Saint Maud - Review
British horror has never been better with Rose Glass' disturbing and forensic take on the unravelling of the human psyche.
OCTOBER 27th, 2020
Director: Rose Glass | Cert: 15 | Runtime: 1h 24m
wo years ago, Ari Aster’s Hereditary provided a disturbing and startling cinematic experience, with many declaring the movie as one of the most frightening in recent years. This year, writer-director Rose Glass’ debut Saint Maud has reached similar acclaim with a disturbing, brutal and fearsome film which blurs both psychological and body horror with a religious undertone.
Centring around a young woman going through a breakdown, Saint Maud dives head-first into the emotional and mental turmoil of recently converted Maud (Morfydd Clark) – a palliative-care nurse who finds herself parlayed into God’s plan. Leaving the NHS behind, she offers her services to an embittered ex-dancer called Amanda Köhl (Jennifer Ehle) dying from end-stage lymphoma.
As the two women come to rely on one another, one for care, the other to facilitate her religious services, Saint Maud quickly illuminates a story of isolation, loneliness and the lengths we go in the name of devotion.
The remarkable success by Glass is her ability to blend together the differing views of the character’s worlds. The audience is dragged into Maud’s nightmarish and warped world, yet also observes it from the outside, seeing in full horrifying glare the depraved mindset of a woman slowly unravelling.
There are the occasional jump scares, yet similarly with Hereditary, Glass has chosen a restrained and composed approach to the film’s horror elements. The disintegrating psychological state of Maud’s mind bleeds from expressionism to realism with such perfection that the final few moments of the film leaves you genuinely shocked.
Perhaps the most unique element of Saint Maud stems from how the film treats its titular character. This isn’t a monster movie, following the traditions of Halloween or Misery. Maud is a sympathetic character; her story is told through the paradigm of compassion. Yet this tactic is what makes her demise all the more terrifying – you know she is wrong, yet you feel desperate to help her.
Morfydd Clark is astonishing in the lead-role – her first – and expertly transforms from vulnerable and desolate, to powerful and chilling. She grounds Maud in a reality of understanding whilst providing a performance that is anything but real – a tough feat to achieve. Jennifer Ehle has never been better, capturing the piercing intelligence and sense of honest acceptance as her health declines.
The backdrop of Scarborough only adds to the dark horror tones and becomes a vital partner in the storytelling. The grey coastline is showcased through Ben Fordesman’s stellar cinematography, formulating a fractured and fraying world which parallels Maud’s inner state.
Horror movies are subjective, depending on your own personal preference, they can divide audiences. Saint Maud is that most rare of frightening jewel – one which supplies terror to all. It is dark, uneasy and forensic; refusing to pull the camera away, even at the most terrifying moments. Rose Glass has created a formidable debut. In place of playing it safe and assigning to the formulaic horror structures, she breaks the boundaries choosing audacity over safety. Such ambition is grossly missing in the world of horror filmmaking, such unashamed fear has been long absent. Saint Maud is a triumph of terror, one which will burn into the psyche of those who are brave enough to watch it.
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