Here we are then with Saint Maud, a film that in any other year would have been a celebrated but small art house release but with things as they are, it is this weeks big cinema movie.
This is good for the people behind it of course, and I’m pleased for them. Saint Maud is a cleverly and cautiously plotted film with real directorial flare and excellent performances. It deserves to do well. I can’t help but think that the current circumstances have lead to it being marketed as something it isn’t though. For a start, they are pushing this as is a horror which isn’t quite right but the other thing that you might think this is judging by the trailers and posters, is something that it most definitely is not. It is not mainstream.
This isn’t to say that Saint Maud is inaccessible; the story is actually quite straightforward. Maud, a young nurse who has left the NHS following a patient death that she was in some measure responsible for, takes a position providing palliative care for a respected dancer and choreographer who has fallen seriously ill. Having turned to Catholicism, presumably in response to the previous tragedy, she begins to hear God talking to her and becomes obsessed with saving her new patient’s soul. There are horror elements as she becomes disturbed and goes to extreme lengths to satisfy God’s will but it is more of a character piece than any regular ghost or possession story. There is a really slow build to any action or resolution too, slower that narrative convention dictates.
In fact rather than any horror movie, Saint Maud put me in mind of Amadeus. This is not through any content or thematic similarity but because in this case as in that God is not necessarily a benevolent force. We have seen numerous films where the devil is the enemy but rarely is the Big Guy the bad guy. The strong suggestion here is that the whole thing is in her head and that there is no supernatural entity controlling her, but either way this is all Rosaries and crazy more than it’s Rosemary’s Baby. With the fantastical imaginings of a young woman driving her to violence it also reminiscent of Heavenly Creatures. It may not actually be very close to these two films but Saint Maud is as comparable to these as it is to something like The Omen or Halloween.
Enough of what it’s not though, let’s consider what it is. Above all else Saint Maud is a calling card for two women. Morfydd Clark has shone in a number of films and shows, especially recently, including Love & Friendship, Eternal Beauty, His Dark Materials, Dracula and David Copperfield and is a very varied actor (especially when you compare that last movie to this one). Her turn in Saint Maud is superb though and shows real balance. She is intense but subtle and disturbing yet absorbing. Similarly writer/director Rose Glass, with her first feature, has shown an impressive handling of the medium. This story was always going to walk a fine line between shocking and silly but she manages her material so well. Director Ari Aster, by contrast, walked the same tightrope with Hereditary and Midsommar and as far as I’m concerned he spectacularly fell off on the wrong side both times. Glass does not slip.
Saint Maud is certainly not going to be everyone’s tabernacle but if you like films that build the tension to a bold finish and take the conventions of cinema and genre and play with them to unconventional ends, then you might have just found a new alter at which to pay reverence.