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Review: Saint Maud

Kristina Wemyss explores the sins, sex and stupidity of horror film Saint Maud; a film almost laughable in its attempts to shock.

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Image Credit: StudioCanal

Director: Rose Glass
Starring: Morfydd Clark
Running Time: 1h 24mins
Rating: 15

Saint Maud is the directorial debut from Rose Glass, produced by A24 Studios. Despite these studios being associated with an impressive collection of hidden-gem indie films, Saint Maud has all but obliterated my view of them. Many critics have praised Glass’s artistic ambitiousness and declared that the film is a profound revelation. However, the truth is that this isn’t meaningful or high art; it’s a fragmented mess that drowns under the weight of its own pretension.

Admittedly, the storyline is fantastically original. Maud (Morfydd Clark) is a nurse who provides palliative care to a former professional dancer with terminal cancer. During her time looking after this woman, Maud becomes obsessed with saving her soul. The idea of how all-consuming something as powerful as religion can be is an intriguing premise. Yet, the way that Glass explores this is utterly ridiculous.

Although the film attempts to explore very profound and philosophical topics, Glass fails to capture the gravity of these issues. Serious themes such as self-harm are explored in a very base way, with gory wince-inducing shots of the protagonist cutting herself and putting nails into her shoes. Additionally, God ‘comes’ to Maud several times during the film, and each time she quite literally appears to have an orgasm, at one-point collapsing in the kitchen while making tea. Towards the end of the film we hear the voice of ‘God’- a generic booming voice which makes proclamations in Latin. Following an encounter with God, Maud suddenly sprouts angel wings, which are terribly animated and nowhere near life-like. These blasphemous depictions create a laughable and insulting picture of religion. You would be forgiven for thinking that the film was intended to be a comedy rather than a horror.

Saint Maud is bursting with shock-factor. Shots flicker without warning between rough sex, rape, and flashbacks of Maud performing CPR on a patient so aggressively that she cracks his ribs and kills him. Admittedly, you can’t seem to look away, but for all of the wrong reasons. Everything feels incredibly overdone, and the film only becomes increasingly unbelievable as it progresses. It really is best to leave some things to the imagination.

While the storyline is overloaded with ridiculous and incomprehensible events, Glass’s characters themselves are boringly simplistic. Morfydd Clark is stiff and cold- just as her character is intended to be. However, her relentlessly straight-faced portrayal of Maud and breathy RP voice are quite off-putting; the opening scenes might make you question whether the film is set in the Victorian times. The protagonist sticks out like a sore thumb in her dingy modern surroundings and in some ways this compliments the strangeness of the storyline, but overall, this juxtaposition is quite jarring.

Furthermore, the object of Maud’s redemption, her patient Amanda, is a disappointingly stereotypical sinner who seems to have been transported from the roaring twenties, throwing extravagant parties, smoking, drinking, and hiring a prostitute.

The only truly redeeming feature of this film is the cinematography, particularly considering that this was a very low-budget production. Ben Fordesman does a brilliant job of reflecting Maud’s chaotic mental state. His shots hark back to the sixties with captivating visuals that are reminiscent of classic horrors like Psycho. Simple shots such as a close-up of what appears to be blood, zooming out to reveal a saucepan of tomato soup bubbling on a stove, perfectly capture the contrast between Maud’s immense and hellish ambitions, and the drab squalor that she actually lives in. Arguably, the cinematography is somewhat over-stylised at times; the dizzying camera spins as Maud floats whilst going into a spiritual trance are somewhat unnecessary. Nonetheless, these inventive features do make the film a little more watchable.

To give a sense of how awful this movie truly was, multiple people walked out mid-film, and had it not been for morbid curiosity, I would have joined them. If you are looking for something that will give you a laugh then this certainly fits the bill; although, I don’t think that’s the reaction that Glass had hoped for.

Editor's Note: This film was screened at City Screen York.

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