Films today never truly dip their toes in piety. It is often used in horror as a cheap-shot quick-grab “good vs evil” theme, running barely as thick as a bowl of a 69-cent can of soup. Saint Maud, the debut feature film from Rose Glass, instead dances a terrifying and isolating tango with piety, merging classical psychological thriller elements to create an engrossing tale about a lonely girl whose story is neither black nor white. Saint Maud is only grey.
Harkening back to ’70s cinema with an old-world gothic horror twist, Saint Maud paints a psychological horror that is somehow altogether both nostalgic and timeless. Maud (Morfydd Clark) is a deeply spiritual nurse whose prayers sporadically narrate our journey. After being hired to take care of the terminally ill retired ballet dancer Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), Maud takes it upon herself to share her God and do anything it takes to save dying Amanda’s soul.
“Saint Maud paints a psychological horror that is somehow altogether both nostalgic and timeless.”
But whether Maud is experiencing signs of God, delusions, or something else altogether, soon Amanda too is along for the ride – and for perhaps the first time in Maud’s life, she feels she is experiencing something in tandem with another. Not a connection that can be easily broken. Or.. willingly.
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Our two main sets are in start contrast of one another; Amanda’s house is a dark wooden spookshow at the top of the hill. It’s the apartment in Rosemary’s Baby, mama Bates’ digs in Psycho. Maud’s apartment is barely larger than a maximum-security prison cell. She could kick her tiny 3-piece dining set from her twin bed, make a 69-cent can of soup on the stove while she uses the toilet. It is white, stark – there is no warm welcome for Maud at home. No purring cat, no smiling nick-nacks or brick-a-brack (unless you count a makeshift religious shrine).
Saint Maud is a constantly eerie film, one that promises to keep you tangled and refuses to satiate your burning questions. Genre fans will come armed with all the possession and psychological thriller knowledge of films that came before it, ready to call Pazuzu and close the case. But every time Saint Maud dares to divulge a taste of the supernatural, she reels us back in with flirting, dangerously bewitching characters we can’t quite crack. So vague. So wonderfully tangled. And grey.
“.. every time Saint Maud dares to divulge a taste of the supernatural, she reels us back in with flirting, dangerously bewitching characters we can’t quite crack.”
Morfydd Clark’s Maud conducts the entire film, feeding and manifesting the enigma. Thought a futile endeavor, we hunt for clues on her face, seek stability and reassurance from her actions. Her character will jolt and juxtapose, a tornado of a human being, especially one that swears themselves to God. She is perfectly pitted against Jennifer Ehle’s once confident Amanda. A supporting character with enough life to live a movie of her own, she glimmers through lost hope with the fire of a daring soul who’s not afraid to tease, to challenge, to flirt, or to hurt. We join Amanda near the end of her story; an effect without the cause. Her life of glitz and glam long over, her only dancing partners the few souls that visit her house on the hill.
Though Saint Maud is sparing with her visual terrors, the film isn’t without its paranormal delights. Paranoia, doubt, and unwavering belief in an externalized God will manifest themselves throughout the film in a myriad of ways, all perfectly timed and always surprising.
Saint Maud is an atmospheric ballet of one lonely mind yearning to connect. Eerie, vague and wickedly delightful from start to haunting end, Maud will have even veteran horror fans wrapped up in the dance.
Saint Maud celebrated its World Premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday, September 8th. TIFF 2019 runs September 5th-September 15th in Toronto, Ontario and 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!