A24’s ‘Saint Maud’ Reviewed: “A spectacular parable of solitude in contemporary Britain”

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★★★★★

Morfydd Clark transcends all previous notions of performance in writer-director Rose Glass’s debut film. The psychological thriller/horror marks Glass as one to watch so to speak, sparking much excitement amongst the film community. The narrative centres around a recently converted medical care-giver, Maud, upon her arrival at a new nursing post. Here we meet her terminally ill patient and former professional dancer, Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a person who embodies all sin in Maud’s eyes.

Maud endeavours on a metaphorical pilgrimage in order to save her patient from more than terminal cancer – she is on a mission to “save [her] soul”. Jennifer Ehle and Morfydd Clark offer sublime, titillating performances throughout, utilizing their bodies and facial expressions to create a sensual, climatic, and thoroughly chilling work of art.   

Rumoured to be in contention of Oscar nominations, the film has achieved considerable critical acclaim, often a challenging feat for directors of the horror genre. The genre classification of the feature has been the subject of controversy; it is not a film that bombards the spectator with meaningless jump scares and predictable genre tropes. It is a remarkably unsettling film but not in the traditional sense.

There is something strikingly human about this film, despite its thematic and visual engagement with the supernatural. Saint Maud delves into the most fundamental concerns and dichotomies of humankind: Life vs. Death, Virtue vs. Vice, Soul vs. Soulless, Sanity vs. Insanity, and most importantly God vs. The Devil. As the film progresses, it becomes increasingly unclear whom or what Maud believes she is communicating with, the skilful use of inverted camerawork, the symbolism of anti-clockwise drains and the increasingly disturbing content of the film implies that perhaps God is not listening, but something else is.

Ultimately, the true horror of the film lies within the social exclusion, marginalisation, and mistreatment of our sympathetic protagonist. For me, Maud goes down in history as one of cinemas loneliest characters. This is foregrounded by the film’s use of eerie silence, making for a very tense and isolating viewing indeed.

Glass’s symbolic nod to Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis does not go unnoticed, the ever-present cockroach which lingers inside Maud’s claustrophobic apartment consolidates the sheer isolation of our central character. Glass’s references to Franz Kafka and William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience suggest that Maud is someone on the brink of transformation – but a transformation into what exactly? The theme of transformation is core to the viewer’s interpretation of the film, is Maud doomed to be condemned or sent to be saved? Amanda’s character is also dealing with a transformation, life’s most fundamental transformation – death. Amanda is in many ways as lonely as Maud, after all, what could be lonelier than the struggle with one’s inevitable death? Saint Maud stands as a disturbing social commentary on the modern-day UK which is all too relevant amidst the outbreak of Covid-19. The film engages excellently with complex characters and the exploration of universal anxieties surrounding mortality, religion, and the search for a higher sense of purpose in a seemingly meaningless diegetic world. Saint Maud has firmly secured a place on my Halloween watchlist.

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