Review – ‘Saint Maud’: Penance Has Never Been So Pleasing

StudioCanal UK

Idolatry is a very dangerous thing – we see it constantly within the modern day, through influencer cult-like adoration, ‘stan accounts’ for celebrities; it has seeped into the DNA of entertainment. What becomes difficult when dissecting this modern-day idolatry is the intentions behind such reverence – why exactly do these people feel as though the individuals they look up to are worthy of such praise and attention? The complexity of idol worship is an incredibly entangled web that once lured into, you find yourself unable to escape. But perhaps say, you walked voluntarily into this web – you entangled yourself, offering oneself up to the idol with the greatest gift imaginable: your existential servitude and soul. Then you would be just like Maud.

When a pious young nurse (Morfydd Clark) begins private care of a patient, Amanda Kohl (Jennifer Ehle) in her isolated house, the two form a relationship based around Maud’s devotion to religion. However, Maud is haunted by secrets from her past that cast her out from her old life, now plagued by visions from who she believes to divine intervention communicating with her. As Maud’s desperation to be saved from falling reaches its limits, she finds herself divulging into an ultimatum, using any means necessary to save Amanda’s soul.

It’s incredibly difficult to believe that this is both a directorial and screenwriting debut from Rose Glass, because simply put, it is nothing short of a masterpiece. The brilliance and creativity that protrudes from every element of Saint Maud is remarkable, with immaculate attention to small details that elevate scenes beyond their already-enthralling nature. There are countless people to comment on their ingenuity in creating this stunning work – Ben Fordesman’s refusal to waste a single inch of a frame, through his work with heavy contrasting light and darkness, creating a visual commentary on the relationships between characters, imbuing emotion within silence. There’s also Paulina Rzeszowska’s haunting production design, relying heavily on the use of practical effects to create an organic “in the room effect” that genuinely frightens you, and at some points, disgusts you. It’s difficult to overstate the sheer amount of talent that is evident with this feature, to the point where I want to say as little about it as possible so that you may experience it for yourself.

StudioCanal UK

Morfydd Clark is a powerhouse as Maud, watching her gradual ‘ascent’ into madness in the desperate bid to save Amanda’s soul. The way she performs Maud, through her movements and gazes creates a constantly shifting sentiment toward her – at times you fear her, whilst others you feel a semblance of sympathy, but ultimately you’re pulled back and forth. What Glass and Clark do magnificently well is this swinging in-and-out of Maud’s psyche, as the film at times takes on her full mental state – she seems to take over the very environment she is in, morphing and warping reality in accordance to her divine saviour’s wishes. There are moments of contortion and complete loss of control that Morfydd performs to such a degree, you believe that she is genuinely possessed, as though she has become a vessel for some extreme power.

Glass enjoys playing with this contrast of certainty/uncertainty – whilst we follow and at times indulge in Maud’s belief, we’re constantly left guessing as to if she is taken hold by a higher power or mere psychosis as a result of her past. This certainty/uncertainty is a dynamic that Glass transplants onto Maud’s relationship with others – with Amanda, we’re uncertain of Maud’s feelings for Amanda; the question of romantic attachment is certainly raised, but like Maud’s belief, is left in the ether. When it comes to Joy, we’re uncertain of Maud’s intentions with her right up until her final moment with Joy. Maud is written in such a way that she is not inaccessible, but she has this power to control what we see, and when we see it – and that is an amazing complexity to inject a character with, as it forces you to constantly reassess who it is we are following and watching.

Producer Oliver Kassman described the film as a “sort of deranged fairy tale”, and that is a perfect description. The slight elevation of reality that we are indulged by from Maud allows for more fantastical elements to come into play as Maud’s own mind warps, or as divine intervention demands greater things from her – in many ways, the events of Saint Maud are a positive redemption arc for Maud, as we see her in moments of ecstasy from performing what she believes to be necessary of her, with the hope of her eventual elevation to Sainthood. What’s delightfully twisted about Glass’ piece is that instead of a descent, Saint Maud is an ascend into the highest levels of madness, where one’s actions are so pure in their intent they take on a maliciousness through the need for completion.

Rose Glass has presented herself as one of the best British directors of the year, crafting a sickeningly delightful fairy tale, and is easily a contender for one of the best films you will get the chance to witness all year. Do not miss out on what will inevitably become a classic of British horror.

Saint Maud releases in UK cinemas on the 9th October.  

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