Offering end of life care to elderly cancer patients takes a great toll on Maud (Morfydd Clark). But greater still is the pain of not understanding her significance. She believes in God and has very intense experiences of him, but she cannot make sense of his plan for her. Despondent, she soon finds work supporting ailing dancer, Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), who is afraid of her approaching death and hopes to escape it with alcohol, sex and flippancy. Finally Maud sees an opportunity for deliverance: she just needs to save Amanda’s soul, whether she likes it or not…
What promises to be a performance driven psychodrama between the two women is actually more of an experimental voyage into the mind of a very troubled young woman. The sequences between the two are dramatic but Maud spends far more time on her own, clumsily trying to navigate the labyrinthine existential crisis she is experiencing. What starts as an all too familiar two hander between a young nurse and her elder patient becomes something much more original and disturbing.
The religious zealotry of Maud is, of course, not the root of her madness, merely a self-prescribed antidote for a far more affecting affliction. As she grapples with loneliness, self-doubt and possibly epilepsy her experiences become more disturbing. She yearns for anything that feels authentic, particularly some kind of physical connection. This drives her to some painfully rendered encounters with other people. Clark does not just play Maud as the typical meek girl with a psychopathic bent. She’s a riveting and chaotic figure who never feels as though she is at the mercy of the plot. Clark’s disturbing performance is iconic and powerful.
Stylistically, director Rose Glass has presented a truly unique and impressive horror aesthetic. Her menacing use of darkness is truly chilling. She also succeeds in an affecting intimacy in the sequences of physical contact between characters and the visceral shots of self-harm and treatment, often mischievously juxtaposed. The film comes to vivid life during the moments of religious rapture, but there’s poetry to the way in which Glass has captured the sad quietness of the small English Seaside Town. There’s a painterly quality to the frames in this film.
The film does also feature narration in the form of a prayer. This unfortunately removes some of the ambiguity and menace in what we are seeing. Nevertheless this is easily one of the most captivating and frightening horror films of the last few years, and solidifies Morfydd Clark as a talent to watch, as well as her talented director Rose Glass. Saint Maude is a difficult but gorgeously unhinged watch.