Whenever a film, or piece of media, explores concepts of faith oftentimes the bi-product of discussing these themes results in some unnecessarily preachy subtext. Even the work of Martin Scorsese and his Paul Schrader penned The Last Temptation of Christ can't help but feel needlessly elongated; where the film's key strong spots lie deep in the climactic third act. The exploration of faith in cinema should come less as a proactive afterthought, but more so as an engaging storytelling tool. Understanding faith is one whole ordeal, but controlling and facing these broad themes is an entirely different miscellaneous task. On one hand, you can be applauded for your confrontations against religious ideas, or on the other deemed as sacrilegious to all things holy.
Coming into grandiose effect, Rose Glass's tantalizing debut expertly blurs the line between commentary and criticism, with her electric Saint Maud. A faith-based horror about the revelation of the internal psyche, it's observations on religious dedication and self-inflicted punishment found in the self-absolution of prayer is a proactive change of pace in comparison with other modern horror films. Saint Maud encourages the audience to commence conversations on the addictive reliance of faith and the unfortunate drawbacks and insecurity of morality. As we continuously seek for some sort of rhyme or reason within the chaos of humanity and life, the lead protagonist ‘Maud' behaves more as a vehicle of the viewer's own opportunistic mindset, as she falls off her own course of deeper meaning.
The hefty subject matter is all supported by some extraordinary technical detail. The immaculate sound design and mix create a sense of hysteric unease, as the unreliable point of view of Maud is constantly spiraling out of control. Little intricate things like a kettle boiling or the spontaneous sound and color of fireworks are cranked up to the point where these small insignificant details become the most important element in the frame. There are drawbacks to this certain style of sensory overload filmmaking, where the more supernatural elements featured in Saint Maud often feel cheap and artificial. The film works best when Glass focuses only on Maud's internal pursuits and her journey of regret and remorse. Where the ending is satisfying enough for any horror-dedicated fans, I was personally more fond of the passive sequences and the unhinged atmosphere. Especially with Morfydd Clark's expressive performance front and center, the film works best when Clark has more room to improvise and show off her acting talent; in the case being in more dialogue-heavy sequences.
A film intact with the divine presence, Rose Glass' first feature is a profound examination of both the positive and negative drawbacks on the practice of faith. A soul-saving horror, reminiscent of the visual stylings of Peter Strickland, the best moments of Saint Maud is when it keeps its subject matter real. As a social-realist character study on the feeble human mind, the film is a terrifying examination on the act of self-control. A dizzying genre film back-boned by Glass' strong screenplay and Clark's inspired performance, Saint Maud is an electrifying showcase of impressionistic terror.
Dir: Rose Glass
Scr: Rose Glass
Cast: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle
Country: United Kingdom
Run time: 83 minutes
StudioCanal will release Saint Maud in UK cinemas on 9th October