Blending darkly surreal and provocative horror with gripping character drama, Rose Glass’s debut feature Saint Maud is one of the strongest British horror films in recent memory. Bolstered by a sympathetic and engaging lead turn from Morfydd Clark and fiery support from Jennifer Ehle, the simmering tension of Saint Maud grips from the onset.
Also written by Glass, Saint Maud follows a pious nurse haunted by past traumas. Following removal from her previous post, Maud (Clark) becomes obsessed with saving the soul of terminally ill dancer Amanda (Ehle). Plagued by visceral hallucinations and apparent messages from God, Maud’s piety becomes more extreme and her aim to save the souls of those around her grows increasingly dangerous.
Saint Maud feels part character drama exploring the slipping mental health of lead character Maud, plagued by her isolation and a lack of understanding of those around her. She descends into extreme piety and self-punishment, only furthering the issues that plague her. As she descends this allows for Glass to bring in the film’s strikingly surreal visuals and disturbing imagery that helps it soar as a genre picture. Prophetic, haunting visuals such as an unsettling floating sequence, a nightmarish night on the town, and visitations from a Welsh-speaking God, serve to add fuel to the utterly chilling and often disturbing Saint Maud.
A sharp and visceral score from Adam Janota Bzowski enhances this ramping sense of tension and unease, whilst cinematography from Ben Fordesman captures an almost kitsch quality in the Scarborough locations – making an intriguing combination with the vastly unsettling genre horror and theatrics. Bringing elements of body horror and light gore into the film only enhances the trauma and unease of Maud’s mental state and the hallucinations which plague it – as well as providing a number of abrupt moments of pure horror. Striking editing by Mark Towns evokes the maximum horror of these scenes with utmost effect.
Clark’s performance manages to evoke a degree of sympathy, which is no easy task in a role that delves into territory as dark as this. We never lose the sense that Maud ultimately wants the best for people – despite being clouded by her macabre hallucinations and the unsettling real life implications of these. Glass’s narrative impressively parallels Maud’s cosmic visions with the real life versions of these on a number of occasions (such as the film’s grizzly final scene) leaving a number of moments that will linger with audiences, unsettling to the core.
Saint Maud is a striking picture, proving to be the most disturbing British horror film in quite some time.