'Saint Maud' Review: Psychological Horror Starring Morfydd Clark Isn't About To Lose The Faith
The British are coming, are you ready? Saint Maud continues to be pretty much exactly what you expect if you’ve heard that A24 will be one of its distributors, being in line with other psychological horror films in the studio’s catalogue. Tackling big themes and motives, focusing on the mental side of the main character and being a showcase for a director making their feature debut are all ingredients used here. We as viewers are placed on a seaside town in England where a private nurse Maud (Morfydd Clark) begins to take care of terminally ill Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), only to find herself infatuated to the point where she feels the need to fulfil her religiously motivated calling. Chilling in the way it keeps growing and growing furthermore, it tells its simple story very effectively.
As mentioned, Saint Maud marks director and writer Rose Glass’ first time in the feature game so it’s highly impressive how she manages to keep the story intact. Many struggle with their first films when it comes to choosing what to show since you’ve waited your whole life to get to that point, often shown through pacing and overload of dialogue. At a tight 84 minutes, Glass seems to know exactly the framework of the beginning, middle and end she wrote herself. She carefully lets us know about Maud for quite some time by letting us into her life, work, home and relationships with nods to her difficult past. Horror elements start to kick in only during the second half and they truly feel earned then, both physically caused hurt and supernatural things are left for the viewer to either believe in or not. Very much like Maud’s religious beliefs and set of values.
Clark carries Maud in a controlled way as the character’s frustration, mental battles, sense of self-worth and nefariousness seeps through from her performance. Her intense direct-to-eye stare mixed with soft spoken delivery while not letting emotions show fits the character traits really well. There is however one scene towards the end between Maud and her ”friend” Joy (Lily Knight) that stands out like a sore thumb. It’s awkward, strangely acted and offers only exposition.
As the film goes on, we move closer from Maud’s orbit, right next to her in fact, accompanied by sharp sound work. Whispers begin to overcome the musical score, natural surrounding sounds start to fade out and we’re being guided through the town with Maud’s personal outpouring to God. You might want to pay attention to those details. It’s also rare that the last two horror films I’ve seen (‘Relic’ and this) both have absolutely outstanding endings, with last shots that have stayed with me in my head ever since. I won’t spoil that for you though.
Smileys: Pacing, ending, directing, sound mixing
Frowneys: One awful scene
Because it’s tight and only 84 minutes, it could possibly be even better on a second viewing. Be blessed, be blessed.