I remember seeing the trailer for Saint Maud back in February 2020. I was excited as this British made film – a directorial debut for Rose Glass – seemed to have all the hallmarks of a Horror film I would enjoy; religious obsession, supernatural occurrences and strong female characters. Whilst Saint Maud has enjoyed a brief spell in cinemas – I did not get to see it. So when I was offered the chance to review Saint Maud ahead of its release on DVD/Blu-Ray on 1st Feb 20210- I could not wait to get my grubby little mitts on the film.
We first meet Maud (Morfydd Clark) as she looks to the light in ecstasy – apparently having had some form of revelation. But something is wrong. She is in the corner of a hospital room, her hands covered in blood. We then given a view of life in her cockroach ridden studio apartment, trying to block out the noise of her neighbours arguing as she says a prayer of thanks over her tomato soup. Here she appears as the classic evangelical catholic, surrounded by icons and seemingly emulating the prudish prissy stereotype we have become accustomed to on screen.
Maud is yearning a revelation or a sign from God as to her purpose in Life. Something she ponders endlessly as she walks across the garish seafront of Scarborough. It would have been too easy for Glass to portray Maud as the religious weirdo antagonist. Instead, we are treated to Maud’s internal dialogue and view her life through the lens of her diminishing mental health. This makes her life both relatable and elicits empathy for Maud as events unfold.
As a carer Maud is assigned to look after Amanda Köhl, terrifically played by Jennifer Ehle, a once renowned dancer and choreographer who now has terminal cancer and uses a wheelchair. Amanda is now somewhat cantankerous; “a bit of a c*nt* as her former carer says as Maud arrives at the property.
I loved Amanda as a character. Her blunt cynicism is tempered by vulnerability as she contemplates whether there is life after death. She seems determined to enjoy all those things we are told are bad for us – smoking, drinking, and paying for sex as her illness progresses. As a cancer survivor myself – I thought the portrayal of Amanda living with a terminal illness was excellent.
The pair seemingly bond despite being opposites. During a tender moment where Amanda reveals her fears of death. Maud tells Amanda of how she found God recently and of the ecstasy she experiences when she ‘knows’ she is on the right path. Seemingly accepting of Maud’s devotion – both to her carer and to God – Amanda gives Maud a book of Blakes illustrations from Dante’s The Divine Comedy. Inside is a loving inscription calling Maud her ‘saviour’. Maud soon concludes that God’s purpose must be to ‘save’ Amanda by helping her find God before she passes.
Encouraged by experiences of uplifting ecstasy and the appearance of spirals, Maud starts to toe the line between professional and purpose. Watching Amanda with her lover, – Carol (Lily Frazer) -Maud concludes that paying for casual sex is not good for Amanda. She confronts Carol, asking her to tell Amanda she can no longer see her. Carol accuses her of homophobia, an allegation Maud quickly rebuts with “you could have an 8 inch c*ck and I would be saying the same”. A brilliant line of dialogue that is both shocking and a subtle subversion on the conservative Christian trope we are all too familiar with. If this is not enough, we learn that Maud has the skeletons in her closet revealed when she runs into a former colleague – Joy (Lily Knight) who gives us an indication that Maud has spiralled into dangerous territory before.
Eventually Maud’s actions come back to haunt her as Amanda calls her out at a party – this time mocking her saviour complex. Maud reacts badly – resulting in her losing her job with the agency. Maud becomes a woman unravelling – w*nking off men in toilets and awkwardly imposing herself on groups who are trying to enjoy a pint in the local pub. Yet more signs bring Maud back to her faith and she atones for her sins in excruciatingly painful way that forced me to bury my head in a pillow. After meeting Amanda’s new carer – her replacement – it seems a mix of jealousy and resentment feed into Mauds final ‘revelation’. The films tragic yet horrifying end will stay with you.
I agree that this is a great debut from Rose Glass and an enjoyable watch – it has been sadly overhyped to the extent that I was left slightly disappointed. The film is more of a drama with elements of horror which are shown in their entirety in the trailer. That said, I would still recommend it as it was a clever and compelling film that subverted many tropes.