Review: 'Saint Maud' (2020) Dir. Rose Glass
Rose Glass makes her debut as director and writer with this simple, focused horror story that explores the darker side of blind faith...
Young private care nurse Maud (Clark) is assigned to provide social and wellbeing care for former dancer Amanda (Ehle), suffering with stage four lymphoma in her estate.
But Maud has a dark secret that she is struggling to bury. It doesn't help when fragments of the past come back to haunt her, but this just reaffirms her new devotion to God and putting faith in the powers that be.
Maud finds herself touched by the ethereal spirit in more ways than during her time with Amanda. The spirit begins to affect her own judgement of the world around her, and a dark path opens for Maud to follow...
Running at a mere 1hr 25mins, something more and more welcome in these days of over-long, bloated films, 'Saint Maud' wastes little time in setting up the tone and pace. This is a horror of the paranormal / spiritual kind. So much of the genre is lost to jump-scares, slashers, bloods, guts and shocks, but there is so much more on offer that is only now seeing more of a resurgence.
It follows in the likes of recent efforts such as Midsommar and Hereditary, but with much more quiet restraint and a slow-burning character study away from any grand set pieces or visual effects. The only real references we have here is Maud's focus on her devotion to the Roman Catholic faith, with crucifixes and holy scriptures acting as her anchor in a very isolated world.
It's a celebration of all the elements that made kung-fu, blaxploitation and action films work in the 1970s, all under the safety net of being linked to the world of DCs Batman.
Morfydd Clark is our "Saint" Maud, devoting her time as a private care nurse to terminally ill Jennifer Ehle. Maud has a past, and it's haunting her. Through small incidents that occur such as sudden asphyxiation, disorientation and hallucinations, it's clear this is a study of being possessed. And Clark plays it wonderfully as Maud, her grip on reality slowly slipping away as she struggles to bury the past and puts all her faith into the spirit she has sold her soul to. She even struggles to be socially accepted in clubs and bars, showing a real sense of vulnerability and detachment.
You can't help feel for Clark, with her almost childlike looks and unimposing stature. She has nothing to live for except her blind faith; Maud wants mercy, redemption and forgiveness, and there is little she won't do to offer herself and her failures to her Lord. A tow-curling sequence involving sewing pins and her best trainers prove this.
Ehle's Amanda, a former ballet dancer now living on borrowed time, is the focus of Maud's attempt for salvation. Maud wants to save Amanda, but what from? Ehle has a real grit to her character and is a polar opposite to Maud, and sadly bears the brunt of blind faith when all Amanda wants to do is retain the shell of the woman she once was.
It's haunting in all the right places without going for the glaringly obvious, which is always a bonus for modern horror. Rose Glass makes a strong debut as director and writer showing a young woman with nothing left of herself to save except her blind faith. There are nods to some of the best psychological horrors out there in terms of how simple and effective the filmmaking methods are such as the use of light, mise-en-scene and close-up camera shots.
It's a bold film about faith, and spends a really generous portion of the narrative to expand on who Maud was, is and what she will become.
Proving that horror doesn't need to be all blood and guts and jump-scares, 'Saint Maud' brings back the spiritual aspects of the genre that work well when done this minimal.
'Saint Maud' is a co-production between Escape Plan Productions, Film4 Productions and British Film Institute