Director Rose Glass’ debut feature, Saint Maud, provides us with a deep and complex web of human terror by wrapping the audience in a nerve-shredding world of mental decline. Here the escape door is firmly closed as we follow a deeply troubled young care worker into a pit of spiritual torment. Saint Maud is nothing short of a visual and auditory journey to hell, a breathtaking experience that slowly eats away at you. A young nurse, Maud (Morfydd Clark), sits on a tiled floor as flashes of a terrible accident surround her. Her patient lies dead, the room shrouded in green, as the shiny tiles of the hospital room reflect tragedy. This vivid flashback to Maud’s past sets the deeply uncomfortable tone of the film, shaking the ground beneath our feet as we begin to explore Maud’s history and the roots of her troubled soul.
We then jump forward to the present day, where the socially awkward Maud is about to start a new job, providing palliative home care to ex-professional dancer Amanda (Jennifer Ehle). Initially, life seems to 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 as a dancer is being eroded by cancer. Despite her life-ending illness, Amanda is lively and vibrant, her chain-smoking and drinking coupled with cutting remarks and curiosity. For young Maud, her dedication to her new employer is absolute, her secret mission defined; save Amanda’s soul from perpetual damnation.
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Rose Glass slowly unwraps Maud and Amanda’s story against the backdrop of the glistening lights of a British seaside town; however, as we progress, these lights slowly descend into darkness. Here the interface between Maud’s reality and her inner torment becomes less and less defined as we near a shocking and heart-pounding finale that echoes the visual terror of Brian De Palma’s Carrie 1976 and the nightmare of Kubrick’s The Shining. However, Saint Maud is unique in its style and power, offering a descent into psychological horror that lodges itself in the mind and niggles away you for months after the credits have rolled.
Morfydd Clark’s ‘Maud’ offers us a character we empathise with due to her delicate vulnerability and innocence. Meanwhile, Jennifer Ehle’s Amanda is spiky, demanding, challenging, and equally vulnerable. Here both characters share a weakness, one mental and one physical, as they suck us into their world with exquisite performances. Here Glass and her cinematographer Ben Fordesman allow us privileged access into Maud and Amanda’s inner worlds as we witness the slow descent into darkness. The result unbalances the audience, as Maud’s internal thoughts turn into sudden actions while Amanda plays with her nurse like a cat with a mouse.
Saint Maud is nothing short of formidable, as it plays with your empathy while terrorising your mind, its complexity engulfing you in a tsunami of world-class horror. Far more than just another horror, Saint Maud is a trip into the darkest corners of the human mind.
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Director: Rose Glass