Today: June 20, 2024

Saint Maud

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.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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Saint Maud

In a year where all the big, flashy blockbusters are being held back in anticipation of a greater profit in 2021, independent films have an opportunity to dominate UK cinemas – the ones that are still open, at least. Director Rose Glass’ utterly mesmerising debut feature Saint Maud has crept its way into multiplexes up and down the land to shake up cinema, and good grief does it do just that.

Morfydd Clark stars as the titular private carer Maud, a troubled young woman with a mysterious past who believes she has been sent to her newest patient Amanda (a career-best Jennifer Ehle) with a purpose – to rescue her from damnation. Is Maud’s mission no more than delusional fanaticism, or is there something divine happening in Amanda’s dusty old home…

Saint Maud is an incredibly difficult film to review, because it is one that is best experienced with as little prior knowledge as possible. Even watching the trailer is not advisable, as it certainly reveals some horrors that are more shocking when unexpected. Beyond discussing the performances of Clark and Ehle – both utterly electrifying, with Clark in particular delivering something so intense and harrowing that it is nearly impossible to look away – and phenomenal craft of the film, there’s not much one can say without giving away any of the film’s twisted secrets.

The film certainly has all the hallmarks of modern so-called prestige horror – a slow, uncomfortable delivery with haunting sound design and bleak visuals that get under your skin without relying on the more flashy clichés of the genre such as jump-scares and overt gore. The film is an absolute masterclass in slow-burning dread that, thanks to Ben Fordesman’s cinematography and Adam Janota Bzowski’s distressing score, is one of the most uncomfortable experiences you can have in the cinema this year. And when that horrifying final shot has cut to the end credits, you will be sat in stunned silence and horrified shock as you attempt to process what you have seen. But one thing is for sure – you will know you loved it.

Who needs James Bond, Wonder Woman and Black Widow when Saint Maud is here to save us from cinematic damnation? This is a film that truly lends itself to the cinema experience, just make sure you take something with you to hide behind…

Pray at the altar of Saint Maud, a modern horror masterpiece fronted by two flawless performances and mesmerising direction from first-timer Rose Glass.

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