Saint Maud (Review) – Visceral horror of the highest order

Religious fervour mixes with mental illness in a film that takes you to the very edges of psychological horror. Director Rose Glass’ debut feature providing visceral terror of the highest order. In turn, wrapping its audience in a nerve-shredding world of mental decline. The escape door firmly closed as we follow a deeply troubled young care worker into a dark tunnel of spiritual torment and madness. The resulting film creating not only one of the best debut movies in a generation. But also one of the most impactful horror films I have seen this decade. Saint Maud is nothing short of a breathtaking visual and auditory experience that slowly eats away at the nerves of the viewer.

In the opening scenes, we meet young nurse, Maud (Morfydd Clark). The flashes of a terrible accident surrounding her. As her patient lays dead, the room shrouded in a dream-inducing green, the illuminated hospital tiles reflecting tragedy. This vivid flashback to Maud’s past cleverly sets the deeply uncomfortable tone of the film. Shaking the ground beneath the audiences’ feet from the outset, while Identifying young Maud’s history and the roots of her troubled soul.

As the socially awkward and vulnerable Maud starts a new job; providing palliative home care to ex-professional dancer Amanda (Jennifer Ehle). Life seems to finally be back on track for the young nurse, her enthusiasm for the new job dovetailing with deep care for a woman whose past fame and glory are being eaten away by cancer. However, despite her illness, Amanda’s life remains lively and vibrant. Her chain-smoking, drinking, cutting remarks, and curiosity, dovetailing with a paid-for sex life with her female lover. Despite misgivings about Amanda’s life choices, Maud’s dedication to her employer is absolute. Her newly identified mission to save Amanda’s soul from perpetual damnation, filling her with spiritual joy. Her instructions coming from a higher power that ultimately guides her destiny.

Both women’s delicate relationship veers from tenderness to scorn. The beliefs Maud holds dear, creating an initial bond with Amanda. While at the same time, Amanda’s intellectual prowess plays with the young nurse’s vulnerability. The dynamic created both uncomfortable, riveting and intense as the interaction of both women becomes more and more volatile; both Maud and Amanda holding the viewer’s sympathy in equal measure. However, as events slowly spiral out of control and Maud becomes isolated, the film lurches into the darkest reaches of horror. With Religion meeting mental decline, in a journey into the real terrors of the human mind.

Saint Maud 2019 ©️A24 / Film 4 / BFI

Rose Glass slowly unwraps Maud and Amanda’s story, as the glistening lights of the seafront location slowly descend into darkness. The mix between reality and inner torment becoming less defined as we follow Maud to the films truly shocking and heart-stopping finale. While the direction of Glass cleverly echoes the intelligence and visual impact of Brian De Palma’s Carrie 1976. However, Saint Maud is no carbon copy of previous works of sheer terror. Its unique style and sheer power offering something new, fresh and utterly compelling to the viewer. A descent into psychological horror that sticks within the mind of the viewer long after the credits have rolled. Matching the sheer impact of The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining.

Performances are nuanced and beautifully constructed. Morfydd Clark’s ‘Maud’ providing us with a slender, delicate, and vulnerable young woman. While Jennifer Ehle’s Amanda is spiky, assured, and demanding, yet equally vulnerable. Both character’s sharing weakness in different areas; one mental and one physical.

Meanwhile, Ben Fordesman’s sublime cinematography keeps things sharply focussed on the characters at the heart of the journey. The camera following its leads with a documentary-like precision. As a result, submerging the audience into Maud and Amanda’s world as a witness to the slowly descending darkness. While the film’s editing cleverly dovetails the reality of daily life with Maud’s inner thoughts and dreams. The result of which unbalances the audience, as Maud’s internal thoughts turn into sudden inescapable actions. An aesthetic that is only heightened by sound design that mixes moments of serenity with sudden noise.

Rose Glass’ directorial debut is nothing short of formidable in design and scope. Offering us a film that buries itself into your heart and soul while terrorising your mind. Its horror and sadness engulfing you in a tsunami of exquisite performances, direction, and design. Saint Maud is far more than pure horror; it’s a trip into the darkest corners of the human mind, religious extremism, and delusion.

Director: Rose Glass

Cast: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Frazer, Lily Knight, Marcus Hutton


Saint Maud appears in our Essential Horror Films

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Read more from the BFI London Film Festival 2019 here