Saint Maud review – Gothic British horror makes for a strong directorial debut from Rose Glass

Saint Maud review

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Starring Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle. Directed by Rose Glass.

There’s a trend in modern cinema moving towards a more abstract kind of horror movie. The likes of Ari Aster and Robert Eggers have been dealing in this more esoteric take on the genre, and as such it has given rise to a more mainstream appeal for horror stories.

Saint Maud sits happily in this psychological horror area, one part The VVitch, one part Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession. Maud is a devout Catholic home-help nurse, assigned to care for an ailing cancer patient and former dancer Amanda. Maud takes it upon herself to save Amanda’s immortal soul.

Writer-Director Rose Glass has delivered what might be the most confident debut film seen in a long time. The film is set in the present day but oftentimes feels like it’s set in the early 20s; it could be an old-time film, and that gives it its power. The film is heavy on atmosphere and mood, revelling in the unexplained.

Glass is fortunate in that she has two leads that are equally up to the task. Morfydd Clark is sensational as Maud, never overplaying her innocence, but still portraying the sense that she is a recent convert and fundamentalist in her beliefs even for a short space of time. The duality of the character is played perfectly, and the physicality of the performance is never overdone. Jennifer Ehle as Amanda is equally good, able to portray the sense of cynicism while never making Amanda outright hateable.

Morfydd Clark

Morfydd Clark in Saint Maud.

The film doesn’t reveal too much, instead, it’s much more interested in making the viewer feel uneasy, and this is helped by a score that at times is like a loud siren from the depth of hell. The film doesn’t fall into jump scares either, although the few that exist are well-timed, and perfectly match the mood that the film is aiming for.

The detached quality, and the film’s somewhat reliance on being a little gross at times, both work against the perfectly pitched mood. Moments of gore aren’t exactly the issue, it’s more to do with a reliance just on gross things — close-ups on people eating and so on — that don’t really need to exist in the film.

The film never laughs at religion, nor completely invests in it. There are plenty of devout people out there that aren’t as mad as Maud, but then this might in fact be the point, that this is a depiction of something much darker, more psychological than just religion and faith.

It’s not a film for everyone, it’s got a tone and mood unto itself, but it’s certainly a strong debut and a new addition to the Gothic British Horror cannon. This is an unsettling yarn told with expert care by a bright new talent, and featuring a powerful central performance by Clark. Praise be!

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Paul Klein

Paul is Film & Media Editor @ No Majesty. Paul is a Film Studies Graduate from London, and former writer at The Metropolist.