The debut feature film of Rose Glass, Saint Maud is a peculiar horror film of sorts but it’s one that works its way into your own mind before it taps into an area that only makes the experience feel all the more nerve-wrecking. It’s impressive enough noting that this is only a first feature film too, because Rose Glass already carries a distinctive approach to the genre that feels like the work of an established auteur. Akin to many other religious horror classics whether they go from William Friedkin’s The Exorcist or Ken Russell’s The Devils, Saint Maud finds itself ranking among the best of these sorts for a newer generation – and it only leaves me wondering what more can Rose Glass offer within the future.
Morfydd Clark stars as the titular Maud, a religiously devoted nurse who watches over Amanda (Jennifer Ehle) at the hospice where she works. Maud’s devotion to keeping her own patient in perfect condition soon turns into a more dangerous obsession as they spend more time with one another. She believes herself to be a messenger from God, sent with only the duty of keeping Amanda the company that she deserves – but this devotion soon finds itself spiralling into madness and paranoia. It’s impressive enough to see how writer-director Rose Glass looks at this relationship between a caretaker and her patient through such a lens, but at its core there is still something tender to be found amidst the supernatural and horrifying elements that come forth in Saint Maud.
Glass never lets an inch of what goes inside the mind of her titular character escape you in any sense of the word. In the film’s short running time of only a mere 83 minutes, Rose Glass gives you a glimpse into a devoted mind, one who aspires to be the perfect servant on behalf of her own master – akin to an angel of God. But even as this aspiration turns itself towards a more terrifying degree, Saint Maud still carries a human element to its exploration of the almost fanatic-like psychology of Maud. It’s this aspect that remains key to making Morfydd Clark’s performance resonate so greatly. Speaking as an agnostic viewer who has grown up within a Catholic background, this sort of devotion towards religion seems all too familiar to me, but as Rose Glass still approaches the subject with a sense of tenderness it still resonates all too beautifully.
If anything else best makes this experience so much more unnerving, Rose Glass establishes a distinct eye behind the camera. Visually, her style remains so hypnotic, but even in the less showy sequences you still find yourself trapped like you are inside of a prison. But it still amazes me that everything about this manages to gel so perfectly well with one another, and it makes the final result so much more beautiful to experience too. There are many moments in Saint Maud that show themselves as being incredibly uncomfortable, even before the big hit takes place – but Rose Glass sees her viewers as being patient and it turns the experience into something suffocating with fear. You feel Maud’s paranoia from first frame to last, as it starts to manifest into something more sinister, but in exploring a relationship between human and God it still remains thoughtful as it turns towards the darker side.
Saint Maud is a beautiful horror film, for every moment where it also feels pained. But looking back at its portrait of devotion to God on every corner, there’s still something resonant to be found here for viewers of all sorts. This may be less so much of a film all about the effects of religion upon one’s own perception of the world around them but seeing how it blends together with a simple story of a nurse who wants her patient to be able to live what’s left of her life to the fullest that she can possibly can. Tragic, terrifying, and paranoid, Saint Maud is one of the best horror films of the past few years, and it only leaves me wanting to see more from Rose Glass in the years to come. Here’s to hoping she becomes a sought-after name for the genre in the future, if she chooses to continue making more horror films.
Watch a clip right here.
All images via Film4.
Directed by Rose Glass
Screenplay by Rose Glass
Produced by Andrea Cornwell, Oliver Kassman
Starring Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle
Release Date: September 8, 2019 (TIFF)
Running Time: 83 minutes