We are living in a golden age of horror, indie and large studios alike are offering up various subgenres of frights, but it’s always been the case that no one does psychological quite like the British. Rose Glass makes a strong debut with this slow-burning, dread-laden fable of one woman’s desire to save another.
Keeping things small writer-director Glass introduces us to Maud (Morfydd Clark) a recent convert to the hard edge of Roman Catholicism, she’s stern minded but meek and always looking to impart her faith on others, her charge of care is to ailing American former dancer Amanda (Jennifer Ehle – never better than chewing insults and exhaling cigarette smoke).
Like the haunting and deeply upsetting Possum from Matthew Holness, Saint Maud is more interested in growing dread and surrealist moments than prodding you for a cheap scare but when it wants to induce nightmares Glass goes for the throat. It’s a claustrophobic film, even the exteriors and the large house that Amanda lives in feel suffocatingly narrow, and the interactions between people are icy in the extreme.
There’s an atmosphere of being witness to something otherworldly in Glass’ intimate depiction of one person’s religious mania getting the better of them, and her script allows for a naturalistic depiction of events not bogged down by people standing around the explain the plot to one another. We’re given flashes of backstory but it’s left to audience to decide what it means.
It’s more surrealist moments are offered to us as either proof of a higher being talking to and through Maud or as a sign that this is a disturbed young woman in desperate need of some help. For her part Clark carries the film like a seasoned pro, like Lupita Nyong’o or Florence Pugh, she offers the horror performance that deserves awards recognition, while Ehle brings layers to the more mean spirited Amanda.
By the time the film ends, and even at a slender 83 minutes runtime, you feel thoroughly rung out, it’s slow-burn nature often makes you feel as if you’ve been there a lot longer than you have, whether that’s a criticism or a compliment might depend on your taste in narrative rigour and atmosphere, but for those who might be caring for sick people at home, the home release of Saint Maud might prove to be a terrifying experience for much more personal reasons. As another fantastic psychological horror film, it’s the sort that will linger in your mind long after it’s haunting final image has seared itself into your memory. Praise be!
Dir. Rose Glass
Scr. Rose Glass
Cast. Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Knight, Lily Frazer
Prd. Andrea Cornwell, Oliver Kassman
Music. Adam Janota Bzowski
DOP. Ben Fordesman
Runtime. 83 minutes
SAINT MAUD will be released on DVD, BLU RAY, Limited Edition steelbook and Digital platforms on 1st February 2021