Some horrors want to make you jump, some want to chill you to the core, others want to get under your skin and haunt you with images impossible to forget. Saint Maud falls into that latter camp, a horror film that doesn’t want to scare you as much as lodge itself in your mind, a brain-worm if you will, and reside there long after the credits have rolled.
Having experienced a traumatic event as a nurse, Maud (Morfydd Clark) starts to work for a private palliative care company. Assigned to her new role she heads to the home of Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a former professional dancer now dying of spine cancer. It isn’t long before Maud’s deeply religious ways are clashing with Amanda’s devil-may-care outlook. And so begins Maud’s descent into something altogether disturbing.
Throughout its slow-burn running time Saint Maud is a compelling story. Writer director Rose Glass isn’t interested in examining religion itself rather than the power of faith on a person and the fervour with which it can drive their actions. Glass draws you into Maud’s world so utterly that when certain events happen, even though they might seem out of character, they make sense. It is a masterclass in how to build a character and then systematically deconstruct them.
It marks Glass out as a hugely exciting talent, a filmmaker with a keen sense of style combined with effortless storytelling ability. Her camera lingers on Maud and Amanda, using their every sinue to illustrate how they are both different and yet similar. She is aided by some of last year’s best editing from Mark Towns and it is to his and Glass’s huge testament that what horrors are seen are done so fleetingly. Instead we get glimpses and hints that allow the mind to fill in the blanks making the images all the more indelible in the memory.
Ehle is typically brilliant, her dry, nonchalant outlook on her inevitable demise ice-cold in the face of Maud’s determination to ‘save her’. But Saint Maud belongs to Clark. Clark’s performance is so hypnotic it makes Maud impossible to hate, hard to love but desperate to save. Watching her spiral, like a bug around a slow-draining bath, into a nightmare created by her own beliefs, is stunning. It is the kind of performance that if this was not a ‘horror’ film but a based on a true story drama would almost certainly see Clark nominated for major awards, and rightly so.
A delicate story told with the power of a sledge hammer, Saint Maud is one of the most immersive, visceral and jaw-dropping films in recent memory. If this is what Glass can do on a small scale, quake in terror what she can do in the future.