As a general rule for life, if ex-Love Island contestant Molly-Mae says that she doesn’t like something then it ought to be worth checking out. The reality TV star landed herself in hot water on Twitter last month with a scathing review of Italian food whilst on a holiday to Venice. “The food is actually shocking,” she said, the gelato was “grim.” Not content that her credentials as a grade A philistine had yet been fully recognised, she later followed up with a slap down of one of the year’s most anticipated indie film releases, Saint Maud. “Traumatised at how terrible that film was,” she wrote on her story, “Not one part made sense, highly upset.” As a huge fan of lasagne, I figured that her dislike of the film could only be seen as a ringing endorsement.
Horror films (good ones especially) manage to hold their audiences in suspense more through what they withhold rather than what they show. Footsteps are heard up the stairs or a shadowy silhouette passes by a window, and the film leaves it up to the viewer’s imagination to fill in the gaps with their worst nightmares. Saint Maud really subverts the typical horror story by placing the viewer right in the driving seat, as the story unfolds through the perspective of the main character Maud, who also happens to be the ‘monster’ of this tale.
At first this seems a little implausible – how can a horror film continue to be scary if the story is told entirely through the perspective of the character we’re meant to be afraid of? But this is where Saint Maud really excels, as it continues to withhold certain key bits of information from the narrative in a way that is both gripping and deeply unsettling.
The story takes place in a non-descript seaside town, perhaps somewhere on the South coast of England. Maud (played masterfully by Morfydd Clark) has just taken up a new position as a live-in hospice carer for terminally ill Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), and she quickly earns her trust by diligently attending to her needs. Maud is a devout Christian, praying regularly to God and reaching out for his guidance to inform her work with Amanda who she feels has fallen from grace.
The tone of the film soon begins to darken, and what started off initially as a relatively innocent (if a little misguided) spiritual mission soon begins to harden into an obsessive and overbearing resolve to attempt to save Amanda’s soul from what Maud sees as hedonism and debauchery. She attempts to isolate Amanda from visitors, engage her in prayer, and tries to extol the benefits of turning to God before it’s too late.
Maud’s character development slowly gets borne out as the film progresses, and we learn that she is not as saintly as she so desperately wishes to appear. A chance encounter with an old colleague in town suggests that she disgraced herself in a previous job at the hospital, and other interactions with people begin to paint a picture less of a holy crusader and more of a troubled and mentally disturbed portrait of sin.
As the cracks begin to show in her façade her behaviour becomes ever more erratic and unpredictable, and as she begins to lash out in desperation the film begins to deliver scenes that are totally petrifying to watch. The pacing is totally masterful, and key turning points are delivered with such calculated timing that they chill you to the bone.
It’s quite difficult to believe that this movie is the feature film debut of director Rose Glass, but one thing is for certain in that this movie heralds the arrival of a powerful female voice in modern filmmaking. It’s a genuine shame this film was released during the pandemic, because I feel like in normal circumstances it would have been the subject of a lot more attention than it has gotten over the last month. It gets a resounding stamp of approval from Inertia, and we thoroughly recommend you check it out.
Words by Charlie Forbes