Saint Maud15¦ Blu-ray, DVD
Some dream jobs are more desirable than others. Take acting for instance, where hard work and talent could possibly put you on the Hollywood A list, leading to all manner of opportunities. And then you have more recent phenomena such as becoming a social media ‘personality’, or social influencer, for those who want to take a shortcut avoiding hard work and just get paid for talking waffle and or being mildly attractive in front of camera.
With the amount of serious dedication it needs to become a saint, no wonder it’s a vocation that, despite the cool job title, very few aspire to these days. Certainly the fact that part of the job description involves performing miracles, and the small matter of only being decreed a saint years after your death, may also prove a stumbling block for many.
Getting a head start on the process however is writer/director Rose Glass, performing a small miracle all of her own in producing her highly compelling debut.
About to start a new job in a sleepy seaside town is young Maud (Morfydd Clark). She’s a palliative nurse looking after her patient Amanda (Jennifer Ehle) in her home.
Amanda is dying of cancer and Maud is on hand to try and make what little time Amanda has left as comfortable as possible. Although a medical professional, Maud feels that she is unique in being able to provide a more meaningful treatment plan, as she believes that God speaks to her, and that this relationship could be far more beneficial to Amanda, whether she’s prepared to accept it or not.
There’s a quiet intensity to Glass’ debut British feature that remains from the off. Certainly its sparse seaside locale helps, out of season, with a tangible chill in the air throughout.
Then you have Maud herself, played to perfection by Clark in her first leading role. Maud is a character in a caring role, but with little interaction with others, keeping very much to herself. She therefore only has two telling relationships within the film, that with her patient Amanda, and that with God. It’s this dynamic that keeps things interesting, especially with the more religious aspect, as the possibility of Maud suffering from mental health issues cannot be discounted.
Glass also appears to place a retro frame around her film; not only does it feel suspended in a time of its own, with little reference to the modern world, but it pays homage to classic psychological horrors of the seventies, such as Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, with a distinct visual palette that certainly aids the film’s deliberate unsettling mood.
But to say it’s an all out horror fest would be wrong, if anything it’s a reluctant horror. Glass does remarkably well in developing an unnerving atmosphere, with mostly mood and scenery doing the heavy lifting, which will certainly keep audiences on their toes. However, she keeps one or two set pieces up her sleeves, which make quite the impact when delivered, which only help to cement the overall haunting experience.
Some may find the pace just a tad too pedestrian for their tastes, but there’s a richness to the film, drenched as it is in atmosphere, that certainly makes Saint Maud a truly worthy debut.