Rose Glass’ Saint Maud stunned Midnight Madness audiences at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, and it remains the one movie that continues to linger in my own mind. Saint Maud marks Glass’ feature film debut and is truly haunt exploration of a woman’s descent after a particularly traumatic, and life shattering experience. Our very own Kimberley Elizabeth called the Saint Maud “a psychological horror that is somehow altogether both nostalgic and timeless […] Eerie, vague and wickedly delightful from start to haunting end, Maud will have even veteran horror fans wrapped up in the dance”. Read her full review HERE.
We sat down with writer/director Rose Glass and producer Andrea Cornwell after Saint Maud‘s World Premiere at TIFF 2019 to talk about her influences, the evolving nature of storytelling, and the madness that loneliness can bring in our universal desire to connect. We began by talking about the previous night’s screening of the film, and about the antics of Midnight Madness programmer Peter Kuplowsky.
“What I loved about making this film was being able to have one foot very firmly planted in horror…”
Andrea Cornwell: Midnight Madness is great. I mean, you got a room full of people [who are] whooping the trailers, so you kind of think. “Okay. They’re in the mood.”
Rose Glass: Yayy!
Jonathan Dehaan for NOFS: They’re definitely an audience that was made for your movie.
RG: A vocal audience is much appreciated by nervous filmmakers.
AC: We love [Midnight Madness programmer Peter Kuplowsky] as well. Even him coming out with his hat and doing the whole routine.
NOFS: Was he able to land his land onto the rack when he threw it?
AC: He did not. I need to take it up with him, because he did say Sunday was his night that he normally got lucky. We were in the wings, and we just had the audience go, “Ahhhh”.
RG: I didn’t see it so, what, he tries to throw it and get it on someone’s head?
AC: No, no- it’s like a rack. A skeleton thing.
RG: Oh, that’s what the skeleton thing was. I just saw the skeleton thing backstage but didn’t question it. I was like, “Seems about right”.
NOFS: Unfortunately We didn’t get to see it with that audience.
AC: It’s great with the crowd. I mean, we always knew the film was funny. Every time we go into a development meeting, Rose would be like, “It’s gonna be funny”.
RG: And they’re kind of like, “Really…?”
AC: And then suddenly seeing it with a crowd, and they’re laughing at the gags. But it’s that horror thing where, you know, you’ve got those shock moments and you get a *gasp* and then you get the laugh. It’s great.
Kimberley Elizabeth of Nightmare on Film Street: Yeah, you don’t take into account, the nervous response that you get with an audience.
RG: Yeah, it’s sort of [a] build up of feeling around you that- there’s a particular moment, like “the pin scene” or something like- the anticipation of that and hearing [the audience gasp]
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NOFS: Can we talk a little bit about the development? Where did you first get the idea for Saint Maud?
RG: Around five years ago, around the time I was finishing Film School, I started working on a rough idea for a film. It was obviously very different in the beginning. You know, I didn’t really know what the film was about until a bit later down the line. At first, I was just sort of interested in the idea of telling a story in which the main relationship in the film takes place between a woman and a voice in her head. And I just thought that would be a cool kind of hook for a story.
NOFS: It works really well because it’s almost like having narration but she’s actually talking to somebody.
RG: Yes. It’s just her voice now. In the beginning, it was literally like God was going to be a character sort of like in Her, with Scarlett Johansson, sort of being a voice you just hear but quite quickly that fell away. It sort of wasn’t as interesting as her, and I started wondering about what was going on in the rest of her life, and sort of why no one else around her seemed to realize-
AC: Although there is- without giving it away- there is a cool moment later on in the film where you kind of get back into that for a moment.
RG: So that’s kind of where it started and then, obviously, teamed up with Film4, in the beginning with Oliver [Kassman], and then a bit later in development Andrea came on board, and sending drafts- it’s kind of a long protracted process, I guess. Which isn’t an especially snappy answer I’m afraid
NOFS [To Andrea]: I imagine you were aware of her shorts in film school?
AC: Yeah. And became more aware of your other stuff, because Rose has had one short that was sort of, you know, it was the calling card one. It was the shiny one […] that put it’s head above the parapet, but then Roses has done a whole bunch of really experimental dance shorts and much more sort of art stuff. And some of it’s quite out there.
RG: Yeah, mostly I’ve just done narrative shorts whilst I was at film school but then since graduating and whilst I’ve been developing this script, and just doing odd jobs and things, I found being able to- just whenever I could- do just really weird sort of non-narrative little visual experimental shorts was a good kind of like [*shakes it off*].
AC: Those are actually the ones that I absolutely love. I think, as a producer, I’ve done a few films now and I have done social dramas and, you know, but I think you always are looking for a filmmaker that’s got something. A voice that somebody will actually say “Oh, this is their film,” and you know, when they do next films hopefully it feels like a body of work that fits together, stylistically. There’s very few shorts that you watch and can feel that voice coming through. They may be good stories and well put together and everything but yeah, that’s always really exciting.
“[…] people want to go to the movies and have it be this collective experience where you’re all excited, and there’s this slightly voyeuristic weirdness to it, but in a way that still connects people.”
NOFS: So is the genre space something you’re interested in exploring further?
RG: Definitely. yeah. I mean, not exclusively horror at all, either. What I loved about making this film was being able to have one foot very firmly planted in horror, but I personally wouldn’t say it’s like a straight out-and-out or by any means. It’s a very psychological. Having that sort of crossover, I guess I also find very appealing but I love the idea of going forward being able to explore different genres. I’m kind of thinking about something vaguely in Sci-Fi-ish, maybe Crime. Genre things also tend to lend themselves to stories that have that slightly heightened, exaggerated, more playful elements. The films I like are always pushing things a bit over-the-top, and extreme and shocking, and that’s the kind of reaction you want to get from people. And Midnight Madness is, you know, people want to go to the movies and have it be this collective experience where you’re all excited, and there’s this slightly voyeuristic weirdness to it, but in a way that still connects people. Everyone’s weird, and it’s nice tapping into that and celebrating it a bit.
AC: Yeah, I mean, you know, we’re in the age of streamers. They’re firmly here now. Most people’s experience of films is increasingly going down that path. And I mean, I know myself, I’ve got five year old kids so I go to the cinema to see five year old kid movies to see horrors [like] Hereditary and Suspiria, and It Follows. Those are the ones that you kind of thin “Oh, I’ve got to go out the house”.
NOFS: If we can talk about inspiration for a minute, I’m curious what movies you were pulling from [for Saint Maud]. I know you had mentioned 70’s horror and melodrama.
RG: What I like is being able to look at films I like and then sort of finding out about what films the filmmakers you made that were inspired by. Taxi Driver is a bit of a reference. I think quite early on in development was trying to explain Maud a little bit to some execs who maybe were a bit perplexed, and I was like, “try thinking of her [as] if Travis Bickle was an English Catholic woman living in a small seaside town”. And- this obviously doesn’t seem that similar but- the kind of core of that character because in both places, there’s quite universal stories really. And with Scorsese […] as soon as you see something like Diary of a Country Priest you see how much Taxi Driver was inspired by that, and [then] you find out that Paul Schrader was obsessed with reading Notes From The Underground, Dostoevsky, it all goes back- not to compare our film to that or anything, but it’s But you see, like ideas get…
RG: It’s all connected. So, in a character way that was sort of an inspiration. Rosemary’s Baby
RG: Repulsion, Persona. So a lot of Bergman stuff, that level of psychological melodrama
AC: A few people picked up on Carrie. That came up last night
RG: Yeah! I mean, I love Carrie, I kind of never really thought of it. Weirdly, Carrie and The Exorcist, people seem to mention quite a lot. And obviously, incredible films, I didn’t as consciously think of [them] as I was writing. More recently, Ingrid Goes West, stuff like that as well. In a way, she’s sort of this similar female-driven, woman kind of unraveling. I love that.
“….I think stories work best when at the core, there’s something quite universal and simple to grasp. Everyone knows what it’s like to feel lonely…”
NOFS: Taxi Driver and Ingrid Goes West have these characters- and yours as well obviously- all have these characters that are really isolated. In the 70s it was a “I’m in a big city but feel alone” and now, we’re more connected than ever, but still feel alone […]
RG: I didn’t consciously set out thinking “I want to make a film about loneliness,” because that sounds horrible, but that’s kind of hopefully what I’ve [done]. Again, a lot of films that we all love, it’s people doing crazy, weird, extreme things but hopefully, I think stories work best when at the core, there’s something quite universal and simple to grasp. Everyone knows what it’s like to feel lonely or to feel disconnected from people. It’s just sort of pushing that to extremes, I guess.
NOFS: And religion is so universal as well, and that’s definitely where a lot of people will go if they have loneliness that they’re trying to remedy. I’m curious what your thoughts are on Religion.
RG: Personally, in my attitude, I guess it’s sort of ‘separate your faith from organized religion’. I think there’s obviously plenty of examples that this is very dangerous, damaging aspects to organized religion and being so beholden to an ideology that’s sort of out of your control. But, I don’t know, the idea of having faith and wanting to feel connected to something bigger than you, and to the world around you, and to feel liek there’s a meaning to your life- I’m personally not religious but, to be honest, [in] directing this film I feel like I get it more. I think people get distracted by the differences of ‘this faith does this and this faith does that, and these traditions are weird or whatever- there’s a lot of things you don’t agree with. And, you know, we explore some of the more dangerous aspects of that in Maud but it’s still rooted in a quite universal desire to connect and be seen.
AC: Maud fascinating for that, I think, because it is harnessing that element strongly in the film but we learn quite early in the movie that Maud is a recent conversion. Later on, we started learning even more about her backstory, and perhaps she’s in a pretty different lifestyle. And, you know, we never really see her go to church, we never see her do anything too, sort of, following a set creed. I’ve always thought Maud is someone that’s just plucking things. She’s creating something that she can cling on to, probably through isolation and because she’s had this recent trauma.
RG: That’s why I’ve always seen it as more of a film that’s about psychology than religion. I think the connection between psychology and religion so very interesting.
AC: Yeah, definitely, but it’s not supposed to be a film just exploring a particular faith. […] She’s drawing imagery from all sorts of places, whether it be Blake or [elsewhere].
“Films are living reactive animals you can’t always tame…”
NOFS: Morfydd Clark is incredible [as Maud], where did you find her?
RG: Our casting director Kharmel Cochrane who we had an amazing experience with, she got her to come […] we saw quite a lot of people for the role and Morfydd was pretty much the last person we saw becuase once you find the person you don’t need to keep [looking]. So that was quite straightforward, to be honest, she was she was fantastic and brought so much more to the character than was there in the script. I mean- obviously there was loads there already [laughs]. There’s elements in the script, which ended up in the final film, which weren’t there in the script before I cast Morfydd and before we did the main shoot. There were a few cases where […] I shot everything I wanted to in the main five weeks of the shoot and edited, Me and Mark [Towns] and then I wrote some other scenes. Some new stuff came up, some of it to do with Morfydd being Welsh and other things including insects.
AC: Yeah, we did another five days?
RG: Yeah, we had another weeks of shooting because we wanted to shoot this new thing-
AC: It’s the best way of working. I’m no determined it’s how I’m going to make everything in the future, but I’m sure it’ll never happen again. Just the ability to find something and then-
RG: You think “I know exactly what this thing is,” before you go into it but then, obviously, you shoot stuff and you know, actors bring something different. And then you know, weird stuff happens on the day and it changes and-
AC: It evolves.
NOFS: It sounds a lot like religion to be honest.
AC: Films are living reactive animals you can’t always tame in the direction you want them to [laughs]
Saint Maud celebrated its World Premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday, September 8th. You can find all of our reviews, interviews, and news HERE, as well as on Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!