CERT: 18 | RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 9TH
After months of many turgid to mid-range horrors slinking onto our home viewing platforms finally a bona fide genre masterpiece arrives, and deservedly in UK cinemas. Saint Maud is a skilfully crafted scare-fest augmented by fascinating characters, spellbinding performances and terse storytelling, that twists and terrifies as much as it enthrals.
Writer/director Rose Glass’s feature debut tells the tale of a God-fearing palliative carer, Maud (Morfydd Clark), who is assigned to chain smoking, 49-year-old ex-dancer Amanda Kohl (Jennifer Ehle); a burnt-out diva with stage 4 lymphoma. Amanda initially seems to quietly consider her carer’s religious convictions as idiosyncrasies so facetiously joins her in prayer. Maud is taken aback by her new patient’s brazenness but the two bond when Amanda takes comfort/finds humour in Maud’s dainty, ecumenical ways. The couple’s friendship is tested further after Maud attempts to purify Amanda by ridding her life of sin. But when this is met with retaliation Maud realises saving Amanda’s soul might cost her, her own.
The story delivers a dark and dreamy array of off-kilter characters in a slickly captured British seaside town. Repression, ulterior motives, manipulation, and psychosexual tension govern the lead characters, reinforcing Rose Glass’s tightly structured tale with conflict, complexity, and subtext. This interplay, coupled with two sensational lead performances enrich the drama and heightens tension, especially when key character’s crack in the latter half and the plot deviates from one of internal conflict into total terror and psychosis.
Glass works wonders with her foreboding, frontal lobe probing, pulse raising feature debut. Cinematographer Ben Fordesman’s visuals also contribute to making Saint Maud so alluring and delectable. Rustic, near burnt, Gothic interiors recall the likes of Hammer, some Neil Jordan, and a nip of lurid ‘70s horrors like Audrey Rose, Full Circle, and Deep Red alongside José Larraz’s Symptoms and Vampyres, by way of Polanski’s Repulsion. Dimly lit golden browns and crimson room tones recall Peter Strickland’s brilliant In Fabric, but Saint Maud is a slightly stronger work with surplus skull-rattling scares which liquify pineal glands and frazzle noggins to a fear-induced stupor while syphoning fluid from other quavering organs.
Saint Maud starts as seething and creepy but flits into an electrifying riptide through hell by way of religious lunacy; elegantly blooming into an introspective, hallucinogenic, unholy, tweaking nightmare about how the redeemed can derail into isolation, delusion, paranoia, and delirium. The story then simmers from a slow burning skin crawler to an explosive, electrifying and frightening finale with the power to haunt your soul. It’s both terrifying, beautiful, subversive, and skewed as though viewed through a warped glass of port. Saint Maud is not only one of the best horror films of the past decade, but probably one of the best British horrors of all time.