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31 Days of Halloween

‘Saint Maud’ review: Psychological horror delivers powerful scares

Characters are driven and/or conflicted by their religious faith.

Welcome to another installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be sharing various pieces of underappreciated scary books, comics, movies, and television to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.

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Religion and horror have always been an interesting combination, from the good (The Exorcist) to the bad (End of Days). Whenever Arnie guns down a satanic Gabriel Byrne, the better stories to counter that content are narratives where characters are driven and/or conflicted by their religious faith. This usually resolves in a tragic manner, which is exactly what happens in William Friedkin’s 1973 horror opus. Fortunately, this is the case with the British psychological horror Saint Maud.

The eponymous Maud (Morfydd Clark) is a newly devout hospice nurse, who has been assigned to take care of the minor celebrity Amanda Kohl (Jennifer Ehle), a retired dancer who is terminally ill with cancer. During their time together, Maud, who is longing to know what her mission from God, is determined to save her patient’s soul. Of course, this being a horror film, the goal of salvation is not at all easy.

Promoted very much as a horror film, Rose Glass’ directorial feature debut is not defined by generic jump scares, but a creepy atmosphere that the resort town of Scarborough provides, This ranges from Maud’s claustrophobic worn-down flat to Amanda’s classy mansion, both distinct settings that embodies the personalities of the two female protagonists. Through the lifestyles between these two women, you could see the film as an exploration of class, but their relationship is more about belief and the conflict it comes with.

Whilst Amanda prefers to indulge herself in the pleasures of flesh, alcohol and partying – Jennifer Ehle plays her with a pinch of nastiness – Maud sees those as distractions from her devoted and delusional role as Amanda’s savior. This despite the fact that she is wrestling with her own demons that go back before her recent conversion.

Another case about how the women are different from each other is how they socialize, from Amanda’s house-party where she interacts with her own kind of wealth and pomposity, whilst Maud is rarely socializing in the streets of Scarborough. At one point, Amanda refers to Maud as the loneliest girl she has ever seen, and at Saint Maud’s core, it’s really about loneliness than religion.

'Saint Maud' review: Psychological horror delivers powerful scares

As a slow-burner with a running time of 83 minutes, you are on the edge of your seat about when is the tipping point for our sad protagonist. Saint Maud is ultimately a tragic character study. Morfydd Clark plays Maud with such vulnerability, while she provides an ongoing snappy narration, which is an internal conversation with her Lord. Having previously terrified us as Sister Clara in His Dark Materials, Clark continues to freak the audience out in a film that is more psychologically-driven, but has moments of body horror.

Having directed a number of shorts and with her feature debut, Rose Glass has become an exciting new voice in the genre, as again she is not interested in quick-cutting jumps, but in lingering shots where you get a chill from the atmosphere where normal people can be these seedy creatures of the night. Credit goes to cinematographer Ben Fordesman and production designer Paulina Rzeszowska. Both embrace the dark and timeless setting, whilst composer Adam Janota Bzowski provide hard-hitting moments of music that crank up the intensity.

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saint maud
‘Saint Maud’ review: Psychological horror delivers powerful scares
Saint Maud
There is ambiguity of what is real or not in the world Saint Maud depicts, but writer/director Rose Glass’ greatest achievement is telling a character study about a girl who is wrestling with her loneliness that she hopes to resolve in her unbalanced religious faith.
Reader Rating0 Votes
Both vulnerable and terrifying, Morfydd Clark is simply extraordinary.
An exploration of two distinct women, through class and belief.
A technical indie achievement from its first-time feature director.
Ambiguous and atmospheric, the horror gets under your skin...
...though the film is very much a slow-burner, which may not appeal to some.

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