Saint Maud Morfydd Clark review

Year: 2020
Director(s): Rose Glass
Writer(s): Rose Glass
Region of Origin: UK
Rating: R
Color, 83 mins

Synopsis: Follows a pious nurse who becomes dangerously obsessed with saving the soul of her dying patient. (Source)

Life is built upon a foundation of extremes. How we view the world inevitably hinges on perspective. This is the shifting ground that Rose Glass’ Saint Maud treads. Glass’ story explores how easily good intentions can lead to selfish gratification – how faith and delusion are oft times the same thing, and how religious fervor often masks deep trauma and guilt. This is a thriller matching the craft and surreal aplomb of early Polanski. It’s intimately paranoid, painting a portrait of religious conviction in the wake of tragedy. It’s also cheeky as hell, dragging both unwitting protagonist and viewer down a nightmarish journey of self discovery and awakening. A distant cousin to The Exorcist or Possession, Glass’ effort is a stylish and macabre, anchored by a heart-stopping performance from Morfydd Clark. 

In the aftermath of tragedy, a nurse named Maud (Morfydd Clark) is looking for a fresh start. She’s also comforted by a faith in Christ, longing for nothing more than purpose within his will and design. Her new hospice client ends up being a woman named Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), who was once a highly renowned dancer. As she confronts her mortality, Amanda seems to have made peace in her own ways. She also quickly takes to Maud, responding irreverently playful toward her devout leanings. The two easily form what seems like a promising bond, but Amanda’s lifestyle begins to question and test Maud’s faith. As Maud grows increasingly possessive and bent on saving Amanda’s soul, she’s lead toward an important decision.

There are a lot of things going on in Glass’ film, but what stands out most is its sincere, non judgmental exploration of faith, and inevitably, the importance of empathy. Glass is able to have her cake and eat it too, splicing surreal moments of shocking gore, hallucinatory imagery and moments of unexpected humor. Still, Glass’ themes as serious as life and death. Maud’s portrait is suffocatingly intimate, confronting questions of spirituality and devotion that are rarely expressed with this amount of depth. Balancing Maud’s extremes and viewing them from both inside and out feels fresh and sincere. On a more technical side, the film is stylishly captured by Ben Fordesman, and Glass doesn’t waste a single frame or poetic composition. The film’s atmosphere drenches Maud and Amanda’s home in shadows, always driving Maud’s unravelling state of mind into the abyss. As things ramp up to an inevitable end, Maud’s journey ends on a jolt that feels earned and personal. 

Fittingly, Glass’ ideas are nothing without the transformative performances of Morfydd Clark and Jennifer Ehle. Taking center stage, Clark presents a spiraling woman clinging on to hope amidst fragility. It’s a testament to her skill, that she’s able to balance the film’s deadpan humor with absurdity and honesty. There’s something primal about her performance, and it’s because of her that we feel film’s mounting insanity in a way that cuts both viscerally and emotionally. Opposite, Jennifer Ehle subtly pulls Maud’s story off the rails. We view her a bit from the distance, never knowing if we’re seeing a warped perspective of her through Maud, or seeing the truth. Ehle walks this tightrope with powerful nuance. Together, these two crystalize the film’s complexity with relatable, razor-sharp focus.

Saint Maud’s conclusion truly lingers past its reveal. The unsettling implications reinforce Glass’ commitment to a multi-faceted perspective, inviting needed conversation about what we’ve just seen. It’s far and away a horror film that isn’t just content with surface scares, but rather ideas that stick with us. Those with religious backgrounds will get more from the film’s dense symbolism, but as is, it’s a powerfully crafted story that makes us wince, laugh, and wonder about the grey areas surrounding nobility, sacrifice and faith.