Review: Saint Maud
Max Ingleby reviews the new film Saint Maud, created by the same studio as Moonlight, Lady Bird, and Ex-Machina.
Saint Maud, the promising debut from British director Rose Glass, is a terrifically unnerving new horror film with a rock-solid performance at its core. We follow Maud (the brilliant Morfydd Clark), a live-in palliative care nurse with a dark past, as she grapples with her unusual relationship with God, as well as the cold cynicism of her dying patient (Jennifer Ehle).
As much a character-driven psychological thriller as it is a horror film, Saint Maud relies less on cheap jump-scares and more on a subtle, humming tension that threatens to erupt when you least expect it. Maud is deeply lonely, living in a tiny rented bedsit in Scarborough, with only her shrine of Christian iconography to keep her company. In true Gothic fashion, she accepts a post at a darkly furnished house atop a high hill on the seafront to look after retired dancer Amanda, who acts as a sardonic foil to the intensely sincere protagonist.
The film thrives on this mismatched dynamic, following the pair as they silently perform their daily routine of exercises, bathing, and medication, and the cinematography likewise excels, framing the characters as shadowy religious icons.
The church-like aesthetic points to the true heart of the film – Maud’s approach to Christianity is, no pun intended, somewhat unorthodox; “It’s like he’s physically in me” she explains to Amanda. Her spiritual experiences are darkly erotic, involving orgasm-like epiphanies and skin-crawling acts of masochism, such as placing drawing pins in the soles of her shoes. Maud begins to witness miraculous acts, like a whirlpool forming in her pint of beer, but the line between reality and hallucination quickly becomes hazy.
Overall, the film succeeded in building a tone of suspense, but I found myself wanting just a few more scares than the meager number Glass decided to deliver. There were also some serious pacing issues, specifically the unneeded and unfocused detour away from the epicentre of the house, that only served to scupper the narrative’s momentum.
My main problem, however, was with the lack of sympathy I felt towards Maud as a character. As a protagonist, she’s hard to root for, given both the limited background knowledge about her life and the simple fact that she doesn’t have anything to lose. It makes for an often detached viewing experience, especially towards the latter half of the film.
Despite this, I was suitably unsettled by Saint Maud and consistently blown away by the sheer beauty of the film. A fantastically intriguing debut by an exciting, new, female voice in a male-dominated genre, what better film to see on the big screen to help out your local cinema?