Rose Glass’ feature-length debut, Saint Maud, is an unsettling, character-driven psychological thriller that proves the future of the horror genre is in good, revolutionary hands. The film follows Maud (Morfydd Clark), a recent born-again Catholic and private care nurse who begins caring for former dancer Amanda Kohl (Jennifer Ehle). Maud believes that the Lord has a higher purpose for her, and will go to great lengths to fulfill this purpose, even if it costs her own sanity.
Every aspect of the film is heightened and surreal, but grounded in the muted realities of a British seaside town. The performances Glass brings out from Clark and Ehle are spectacular; the two women are both loving and constantly sparring with one another. There’s a kind of sweetness to Maud that Clark captures which is humanising and makes you want to protect her from the world around her, especially from herself. But don’t be fooled, Clark also superbly talented bringing out Maud’s darker side. Ehle delivers a performance akin to Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, if Norma Desmond was a regular on Big Little Lies.
The film is also relentless; much like the characters, audiences don’t really get a moment of peace. Every time things are starting to look up for Maud, something unfortunate happens and pushes her further towards the edge. The cinematography and visual effects really add to the film’s unrelenting nature, it’s almost claustrophobic to be in Maud’s head all the time. The sound design and score don’t just accompany you down Maud’s descent, it leads you to it and holds you there.
As Maud continues to depart from her reality, so does the film from its subtler and simple premise. By the third act of the film, you can no longer tell what is real to Maud or not, much like the character herself. Glass marries an almost supernatural quality to all the religious references with many everyday horrors like anxiety and depression. A nice touch was Glass’ interpretation of the voice of God; in this case a deep-voiced, Welsh-speaking beetle that comes to Maud in the middle of the night. The choice to use Welsh is a lovely nod to Clarke’s heritage and upbringing. Maud’s descent eventually leads her back to Amanda, in a chilling final scene between the two which leaves her covered in blood floating away from the house in what may become one of the most iconic horror shots of the year.
The film is also a great character inspection to women that are often overlooked in cinema; the strangers you see in passing with things going on that you can feel but know nothing about, and just continue to walk past. Whilst it’s not necessarily about religion, the film poses some questions about the nature of faith and organised religion using Glass’ exceptional visual representation of Maud’s faith and the ways it has changed. She steps into her full Sainthood, donning a cross and a robe fashioned out of medical safety pins and a bed sheet.
Saint Maud blesses us with its unforgettable descent into madness. Pray we’ll get to see more from these talented filmmakers in the near future.
by Ariane Anantaputri
Ariane Anantaputri is an Indonesian stand-up comedian, and self-proclaimed Fast and Furious connoisseur. She is also a recent Film & Television graduate from the London College of Communication and co-hosts The Pod Charles Cinecast for The Prince Charles Cinema. Her favourite films include Showgirls, Death Becomes Her, and Synecdoche, New York. You can follow her on @arianeanindita on Twitter and Instagram.