SAINT MAUD (October 6th)
YOU'VE GOT RED ON YOU TAKES PART IN THE 31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN CHALLENGE; WATCHING ONE HORROR MOVIE A DAY THROUGHOUT OCTOBER. SOME OF THEM OLD, SOME OF THEM NEW, SOME OF THEM HAVE JUST BEEN ON OUR SHELVES FOR YEARS GATHERING DUST, STILL IN CELLOPHANE...
Religion and horror have been bedfellows since the inception of the genre. Even though in the first world religion has lost some of its power and relevance, the themes of life and death and good and evil and God and the Devil are still deeply embedded within the psyche and so religious based horror films have not really gone out of fashion. In fact, you could argue that they are undergoing something of a resurgence of late with films such as Hereditary, The Witch, St Agatha and The Blackcoat's Daughter all being released in the last few years. Admittedly these are all American productions and here in the UK we haven't really been at the forefront of this trend. In fact, we haven't really made a horror movie of this type for a number of years now (not of any real note anyway). Well, that has now been corrected, with the hotly anticipated release of Rose Glass's debut feature, Saint Maud.
Recently converted Maud is a devout but troubled young palliative care nurse who is sent to a shabby coastal town to look after a terminally ill ex-dancer called Amanda. Despite initially treating Amanda as she would any other patient, Maud quickly becomes convinced that she is meant to save her. Not her body, but her soul. She may be repulsed by her clients hedonistic lifestyle (and sexuality) but she comes to the conclusion that it is her calling. Amanda soon warms to her attentive but intense carer and appears receptive to her desire to help her on a spiritual level. However, it soon transpires that Amanda has been stringing Maud along. Maud, her mental state already in a state of upheaval, doesn't respond well at all. As the story unfolds you realise that the combination of Maud's traumatic past and recently realised religious fervour may be a potentially dangerous combination...
In much the same way that Ari Aster and Robert Eggers did with Hereditary and The Witch, Saint Maud feels as if it is going to put its first time Director, Rose Glass, firmly on the map. Because although this isn't quite up to the standard of the aforementioned (which is no easy feat by the way), it's a film that demonstrates that she has undoubted talent both as a writer and as a Director. It's also produced by A24 (the same peeps that were behind Aster and Egger's features) and will invariably be included by some in that new – and much scorned – sub genre, elevated horror. Which for the uninitiated just means a very good horror movie that is recognised by non-genre fans as well as ardent horror fans. Saint Maud is arguably less of a horror film than many that are often (wrongly) given that label. For the majority of its running time it plays out as more of an intense psychological drama than a bonafide genre movie. It's only in the last ten minutes or so that it reveals its true identity, with suitably shocking and grim results.
The fact that the central character is an unhinged religious fanatic means that it's not always easy to root for her. She's simultaneously fragile, hypocritical, judgemental and at times, deeply terrifying. The fear and horror in Saint Maud comes from the fanaticism of its lead and the movie plays out as a portrayal of her gradual mental breakdown. She believes that God talks to her, that he has a purpose for her. Pretty standard stuff. But as her vaguely grim backstory indicates, her efforts to atone for previous sins and to have a purpose might end up having serious consequences not just for herself, but for others on the way. Mental breakdowns have been explored and realised on screen many times over but Glass's portrayal of a warped worldview is restrained but powerful. Cinematographer Bed Fordesman's gives everything a drab, muted look and although there are moments of body horror and a couple of jump scares, it's the oppressive mood that takes its toll.
Unfortunately, it's relatively easy to map out where the story is probably headed quite early on and the film doesn't stray too far from that course. The ending is undeniably shocking in terms of the imagery but it all feels a little too inevitable. As an exploration of faith and fanaticism and loneliness, it's great. But at a basic story level it is far form perfect.
However, the performance of Morfydd Clark as Maud is quite staggering. She manages to make the character sympathetic and stoic yet unnerving and malevolent. So much of her story is told in mere expressions and body language and although her character is deeply troubled, she manages to make her feel grounded and human.
Saint Maud, despite the odd moment of comedy, is both bleak and trying. It's a difficult film to enjoy but an easy one to admire – and you'll be glad you went through the ordeal.