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

Spoiler Free

Religious fervour mixes with mental illness in a film that takes you to the very edges of psychological horror. Rose Glass’ debut feature is visceral horror of the highest order. 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. Creating not only one of the finest British debut films of a generation. But also one of the finest horror films of the past decade. A breathtaking visual and auditory experience that slowly eats away at the nerves of viewer.

In the opening scenes we meet young nurse Maud (Morfydd Clark). Flashes of a terrible accident surrounding her. Her patient laying dead, the room shrouded in a dream inducing green, the illuminated hospital tiles reflecting death and tragedy. A flashback to Maud’s past that cleverly sets the deeply uncomfortable tone of the film. Shaking the ground beneath the audience from the outset, while Identifying young Mauds past and the roots of her troubled soul.

We then follow the socially awkward and vulnerable Maud as she starts a new job. Providing palliative home care to ex-professional dancer Amanda (Jennifer Ehle). A women whose past fame and glory is shrouded in a slowly deteriorating body at the hands of cancer. Amanada’s life still lively and vibrant with chain smoking, drinking and sex with a paid for female lover. Maud’s dedication to Amanda is absolute, her mission to save her soul from perpetual damnation. Maud taking instructions from the high power she believes is talking to her, coursing through her and guiding her destiny and calling.

The two women’s relationship veers from tenderness to scorn. The religious beliefs Maud holds dear creating an initial bond, Amanda’s intellectual prowess playing with Maud’s vulnerability. Never allowing the audience to firmly define who the victim is early in proceedings. Both the deeply troubled young nurse and the dying yet vibrant and edgy older women holding the viewers sympathy. However, as their relationship develops and Maud becomes further isolated. Religion meets mental decline, in a journey into the true horrors of the human mind.

Saint Maud (Film 4 / BFI) 2019

Rose Glass cleverly unwraps Maud and Amandas story slowly, imagery taking us from the glistening lights of a seaside town into a darker and more sinister landscape. The mix between reality and mental torment becoming less defined as we follow Maud to the films truly shocking and heart-stopping finale. The story having built a sense of empathy with both Maud and Amanda, the audience emotionally tied to both women. The direction of Rose Glass cleverly creating horror, emotion and empathy in equal measure in a similar vein to that of Brian De Palma’s 1976 Carrie.

Performances are nuanced and beautifully constructed, Morfydd Clark’s Maud is slender, delicate and susceptible. Her ability to sit at the heart of any horror feeling unreal. While Jennifer Ehle’s Amanda is spiky, assured and demanding. Yes equally vulnerable as she nears her final days. Both women’s weaknesses sitting in different areas. One mental and one physical.

Ben Fordesman’s sublime cinematography keeps things sharply focussed on the characters at the heart of the journey. The camera almost following Maud in a documentary like fashion. Creating a feeling of closeness, and a sense of being witness to her world descending into darkness. The reality of daily life sharply cutting to Mauds inner thoughts and views. Unbalancing the audience as rumination is suddenly enacted. While sound design follows a similar pattern, with moments of serenity broken by sudden and jarring noise.

Rose Glass’ directorial debut is nothing short of formidable. A film that buries itself in your heart and soul while terrorising your mind. A film that you never quite leave. Its horror and sadness engulfing you a tsunami of exquisite performances, direction and design. Saint Maud is far more than a 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

Read more horror film reviews here

Read more from the BFI London Film Festival 2019 here