LFF 2019: Saint Maud – Review

Release date – N/A, Cert – N/A, Run-time – 1 hour 24 minutes, Director – Rose Glass

A devout Christian nurse ( Morfydd Clark) becomes obsessed with saving the soul of her severely ill patient (Jennifer Ehle)

From the opening scene of Rose Glass’ feature directorial debut the viewer is put on the edge of their seat with intrigue and tension. As they see the figure of Morfydd Clark’s Maud crouched, alone, in the corner of a dimly lit room, after what seems to be a surgery gone wrong. From this very early point the idea that the central figure of the piece is always being spied on – the camera always seemingly put in the corner of a room, looking through a keyhole or gap in a door, or simply looking at the main character through a crowd – is used to full effect. Pushing the feeling of Maud’s strong connection with God and her faith further.

Maud is a devout Christian nurse, assigned to look after a rich, severely ill patient, Amanda (Jennifer Ehle). Amanda spends much of her time drinking, taking drugs and occasionally holding lavish parties. Maud strongly disapproves on this lifestyle and feels that she has been called to save the soul of her patient. As her intentions become clearer, and her behaviours more peculiar Maud begins to have a number of visions. Her faith almost becomes so strong that it begins to seemingly mentally damage her.

The narrative of the film is very much told through the central figure’s prayers, everything comes from her perspective. Leading to a sense of mystery due to only one side of the story being shown. Glass’s decision to never show what ‘actually’ happens – until the very end of the film – adds to the fear factor and overall tension that her film holds. Emphasised not only by the quietness of a number of the scenes; reflecting the standard nature of Maud herself, but also by the use of half-shadowed lighting, demonstrating the conflicted nature of the character and the way that the audience could perceive the narrative, and Maud’s mental state.

Further fuelled by the slow pacing of the film, gradually hinting at new ideas through the inclusion of small, simple details there’s no denying the unsettling nature of the film. Pushed on by the unsettling movements that Clark adds to bring her character further to life.

However, amongst all the elements of horror within the film, Saint Maud begins to feel somewhat slack when dealing with much quieter, more dramatic moments, which do seem to be rather lengthy when they do appear. While the performances in such scenes are still strong and help to progress the ideas that Glass tries to get across with her direction and screenplay the scenes can feel as if they’re building up to something that never quite arrives. Despite this there is still a fair deal to enjoy within Saint Maud as a whole. The performances are strong, with as many subtle details as are held within the rest of the film to make it all the more tense and engaging. Constantly leading the viewer to question what’s really happening, what’s real and what’s not.

Saint Maud works best when leaning towards its more horror oriented elements, while the drama sequences can seem a bit too long and quiet there’s still plenty to like within Clark’s leading performance, strengthened by the simple yet effective details that Glass adds in her effective feature directorial debut.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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