reviewed by Matt Demers
Director: Rose Glass
Release Date: 12 February 2021 (USA)
A creep-tastic thriller of the psychological variety, Saint Maud can perhaps best be described as a chilling unravelling of unsettling proportions.
As disturbing as it all is, however, should you be looking for over-the-top jump scares and slasher-level blood spurts, well, you’re not going to find them here. That’s right, this is a movie all about the subtle unease, slowly building tension and unrest until its horrifying climax. With only a sprinkling of ominous occurrences until the body horror-heavy finale, this becomes a prime example of the old adage- “terrifying things come to those who wait” (at least I think that’s how it goes). And if the distorted faces and ungodly images don’t get you in the moment, just wait until you close your eyes at night.
Saint Maud isn’t re-inventing the genre though, as its themes are fairly horror commonplace. Yep, you’ll find plenty of elements to do with religion, illness and sexuality. But then there’s the loneliness and isolation aspect of the story, one that will surely strike some nerves with our current COVID/lockdown reality. Let’s just say the mind can splinter into some disconcerting corners of reality when left unchecked.
But even with much of the plot veering in familiar territory, there is enough originality in its execution to make it feel holy unique. The expertly executed cold and desolate atmosphere goes quite a long way in upping the unnerving nature of it all, no doubt making our first-time feature writer/director, Rose Glass, a filmmaker to keep our eye on. Glass is particularly skilled at keeping the proceedings measured, slowly pulling the audience in with detailed drips of terror before unleashing the final motherload.
Plenty of credit should also be directed at the film’s cast, as the effortless authenticity featured in the lead performances elevate the un-frilled material tenfold. Mordfydd Clark especially wows in the titular role, giving way to a fully formed take on a tormented soul with faith-based desperation running through her veins. Likewise, Jennifer Ehle is an A-grade delight as Amanda, the free-spirited terminal patient serving as Maud’s total opposite. Together, the pair play off each other perfectly, making their character’s interactions as enjoyable as they are uncomfortable.
So, with a skilfully sinister buildup, plenty of atmospheric dread, and a highly capable cast and crew, Saint Maud stands as one psychological nightmare that is sure to haunt even the most jaded of horror fans. And I’d know, because I am was one of them.