Saint Maud is the debut feature from writer/director Rose Glass, and it packs a punch. The film was first seen at last year's London Film Festival, but was due for broader nationwide release soon. What a crushing disappointment it must be for Ms Glass that so few people will likely get to see it in the current climate... at least, not for a while. Since it is an effective little chiller.
Maud (Morfydd Clark) is a palliative nurse looking after ex-choreographer Amanda (Jennifer Ehle). Maud is extremely religious and feels God move in her... regularly. Acting on His guidance, Maud sets out to save the soul of her ailing bohemian charge. But is Amanda beyond reach, and far will the zealot-like Maud go to achieve her goal?
Morfydd Clark appears so young in this film that you would think this was her debut film. But she's actually 30 years old and has quite an impressive filmography already. Although this is her movie-lead debut, she's had a substantial part alongside Kate Beckinsale in the excellent "Love and Friendship" and smaller parts in "Crawl", "The Personal History of David Copperfield" and the fun "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies". She's likely to get more worldwide exposure soon as a young Galadriel in Amazon's new version of "Lord of the Rings".
As Maud she is simply superb - expressing such a range of joy, hurt and despair that you must think a BAFTA Rising Star nomination should be on the cards.
Clark is ably supported in the leading role by the splendid Jennifer Ehle, still so memorable to me as Elizabeth Bennett from the BBC's "Pride and Prejudice".
Scarborough is also a star of "Saint Maud". The Yorkshire seaside town is another star of the movie. Clearly filmed before lockdown, the rainy and windswept resort looks bleak and unwelcoming. And that's before Covid! Many of those struggling bars and amusement centres, as in other resorts all around the UK, are now on their last legs.
Adam Janota Bzowski supplies the impressively claustrophobic music, which deserves recognition. A scene with Maud, flicking a lighter rhythmically in time with the sonorous beat, is a masterpiece in musical choreography and editing (by Mark Towns).
At the heart of this horror-thriller is whether, following a Dawkins-style argument, fervent religious followers are less insightfully correct and more mentally unstable and misguided. When is the voice of God just the voice in your head? And how would you tell the difference anyway? Piecing together the plot and motivations of Maud was intellectually challenging and rewarding.
I always get a little tense and nervous when I see the word "horror" on a movie bill. I am NOT a great horror fan! But for me, as a 'horror movie', "Saint Maud" is of the 'horror-lite' variety. Highly watchable, it builds more in the way of creeping dread than cheap shocks. There were only a couple of jump-scares (but for me, the one in the finale was a doozy!).
A BBC interview with Rose Glass I just saw says she relates Maud's relationship with God as like many people's relationship with social media. Always looking for support, guidance and affirmation. Interesting.
This is also an obviously female-led picture. All the men are complete tools. no, really, literally they are. It makes me feel ashamed to be among their number.
Overall, "Saint Maud" is a minor classic. I didn't go in with great expectations of this one, but I was pleasantly surprised. As a small British movie, it packs a punch significantly above its weight. When I came out I was at about a 7* rating. But this is one that really stayed with me, and I've subconsciously thought about little else all day. So for that reason I am going to escalate my rating to something more appropriate.
You might struggle now to see it on the big screen, but if you can do so, it comes with a recommendation from me. I think this one could REALLY be a "Marmite film".... so if you see it, let me know what you thought with a comment on One Mann's Movies. (Thanks).