If there was one film I was looking forward to seeing in 2020, it was Saint Maud. Thanks to the global pandemic, it was one of the many films that was delayed and just under a year later, I finally have been able to see it. Directed and written by Rose Glass in her feature debut, Saint Maud follows palliative care nurse, Maud (Morfydd Clark) who is sent to care for former dancer, Amanda (Jennifer Ehle). Maud is a recent Christian convert and is very influenced by God and will do anything to carry out his will, even if it comes at the cost of her sanity and the lives of those around her. It falls into the psychological horror category and a lot of the tension in the film is carried by the strong direction and Clark’s incredible leading performance.
Rose Glass has entered the film industry with a massive splash. Saint Maud marks her feature debut and she delivers in spades. Her directorial vision is so distinct as it mixes traditional shots of suspense with some tributes to classic religion horrors such as The Exorcist while also bringing in a freshness that feels like a breath of fresh air. Bringing an intense horror to a quiet English coastal town, this film feels ground in a real working class reality in the world around Maud whereas Maud clearly doesn’t fit in. Seen entirely through Maud’s perspective as she is in every scene, it’s clear that Maud doesn’t belong but the reason why is unclear. The script is a beautiful slow burner that is paced fantastically whilst still containing a lot for an 84 minute film. Glass makes the most of every second and it is definitely one of the best horrors I have seen in a whole. It’s fantastic to see how women are regaining control of the horror genre and the pay off is brilliant.
Welsh actress, Morfydd Clark is an absolute revelation as palliative care nurse, Maud. Maud is clearly an extremely tense and troubled individual who is trying to make sense of her purpose in the world. A recent convert to Christianity, she looks to God at every point in her life and rather than just verbal words, she feels God’s presence physical. As expected of “body horror” films like The Exorcist, Clark gives her all physically and emotionally without allowing the energy to die down. We feel the tension rising and rising as Maud has pain inflicted on her as well as bodily harm as she believes she must suffer to be with God. Maud is so invested in her religion that she is not even living her own life anymore. From the first moment she is on the screen, we feel that tension and intensity from her. Clark perfectly embodies Maud and shows her struggles perfectly, holding the film on her shoulders in a superb breakout performance. Rather than play the role as a horror lead, she performs as a dramatic lead instead which works perfectly to build up the conflict and horror that is brewing through the film.
In support, Jennifer Ehle is incredible as dying creative Amanda. A former dancer who has fallen ill to stage four lymphoma, Amanda is the polar opposite to uptight Maud. Arguably and ironically full of more life than Maud, Amanda aims to live her last days to the fullest, indulging in alcohol, parties and lots of sex. Maud is both intrigued and appalled by Amanda’s actions and strives to save her soul in time before she dies. Ehle is a fantastic who is often wasted or not given enough screentime in most films she stars in but Saint Maud elevates her to a hugely significant supporting character. Amanda’s free nature is unsettling as we struggle to know what she really thinks. Even as Amanda’s health decays, Ehle gives the character that depth and life as Amanda fights her illness. Even as she succumbs to the end, she has that freedom that Maud simply cannot restrain.
The score is phenomenal and immediately brings in the horror aspects of the film. Whereas the performances feel more dramatic, the music dictates the tone and elevates the tension in the film. Composed by Adam Janota Bzowski, the score is atmospheric, beautiful and hugely impactful. The film overall doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles that many other psychological horrors have but Bzowski’s score is almost an effect in itself. The heavy electronic sounds filled with bass add to the film’s unsettling nature. Even in moments that seem more relaxed, the score refuses to rest and its relentlessness adds so much to the film as a whole. I am extremely excited to see what Bzowski has in store for the future and hope he continues to score films.
Saint Maud is a film that was definitely worth the wait. From the first shot, it is captivating and you can’t draw your attention away. The intricate amount of detail in every movement and props shows the amount of care that has been made in the writing. This marks the fantastic start for Rose Glass and Morfydd Clark as well as providing Jennifer Ehle a chance to really show off her range. For those who claim that horror is a man’s genre, I implore you to check Saint Maud out and guarantee that you will be pleasantly surprised. A film that I already want to watch again and again and again.
What did you think of Saint Maud? Let me know in the comments below!
Saint Maud is released in the UK on Monday 1st February.