Saint Maud is an extremely well made film that will be a treat for some, and a chore for others.
I’ve reviewed a few feature-length debuts for Loud and Clear, and these are always a mixed bag. There’s such a spectrum of quality for a director’s first time out: sometimes you get an exceptional new talent who is able to capture lightning in a bottle, resulting in a Citizen Kane (Orson Welles) or a Get Out (Jordan Peele). Sometimes they’re still finding their artistic voice but haven’t quite found themselves yet, resulting in an Alien 3 (David Fincher) or My Best Friend’s Birthday (Quentin Tarantino). Or maybe they just faceplant out of the gate resulting in a Caged Heat (Jonathan Demme) or a Piranha Part 2: The Spawning (James Cameron). Saint Maud is the feature-length debut from Rose Glass, who both wrote and directed the movie. Where on this spectrum will it fall? While only time will tell, I think it will largely depend on who you ask.
Saint Maud follows Maud (Morfyyd Clark), a devoutly Christian nurse who is brought to a seaside British town to care for Amanda (Jennifer Ehl), a terminally ill woman. As Maud becomes obsessed with saving Amanda’s soul, she becomes haunted by her own past and something evil begins to interfere with her life.
First of all, I have to commend Morfydd Clark for her work as the titular Maud. She is in every scene, meaning the movie really lives or dies off the strength of her performance. Luckily, she is excellent in every scene she is in. She’s not quite a “scene stealer,” as that’s not the purpose of her character. She plays Maud as an uncomfortable and awkward young woman who literally has to observe people and mimic their behavior in order to make herself appear normal. Somehow, she’s able to make Maud sympathetic, chilling, and confounding all at the same time. I just found out that she was cast as Galadriel in the new Lord of the Rings TV show that’s coming sometime next year. After her performance here, I’m excited to see what she does with the character.
The craft of the film is also extremely well done. The lighting does a really good job of creating compelling silhouettes, while the cinematography makes economical, yet effective use of unconventional angles and lenses to punctuate Saint Maud’s unsettling nature. The audial effects did an excellent job of balancing subtlety with the occasional sting to keep you on your toes. My only real complaint in regard to Glass’ direction is that there were a couple of stylistic choices that I thought were either ineffective or heavy-handed. Outside of those, Glass knows how to craft a compelling shot, and has a strong grasp on the nuances of visual storytelling. For real, considering this is her feature-length debut as a director and screenwriter, I am seriously impressed with Rose Glass. I’m looking forward to whatever she does next.
How, then, with all of these nice things I’m saying, is my score for Saint Maud not higher? Well, I suppose, at the end of the day, it comes down to personal preference. There is definitely a type of moviegoer that will LOVE Saint Maud; I’d recommend it highly for people who enjoy films by Robert Eggers or Ari Aster. For me, though, it just doesn’t fit my own personal tastes. First of all, the pacing is quite slow. It didn’t even feel like a horror movie until the halfway mark. It’s definitely a film that takes its time and challenges you to find all of the subtleties and nuances hidden throughout.
The narrative also makes Saint Maud a bit esoteric. Instead of following a more common story structure with rising and falling action, it feels more like a chain of events that eventually lead to a climax. It is presented in a way that can often be confusing, but this is by design. There were scenes where it felt to me like nothing was happening, and then other scenes where I wasn’t sure what was going on, making me question whether I missed something earlier.
There are going to be people who will adore this movie, and if what I just described sounds appealing for you, then I highly recommend watching it. If this doesn’t sound like it’s up your alley, I think I can still give it a light recommendation: it’s only 80 minutes, so if you decide it’s not your cup of tea, it’s not like you just sat through Andy Warhol’s Empire or anything. Saint Maud is definitely one of those films that require you to view them more than once in order to dissect all of their intricacies. It’s up to you, however, to decide if that’s a journey worth making.
Saint Maud was released in UK cinemas on Friday, 9 October 2020, and is now available to watch on digital and on demand.