A Worthy Trip Back to the Cinemas? | Saint Maud (2020) Film Review
After months of being stuck with Netflix as our only way of getting new releases, is it worth heading back to the cinema for Saint Maud?
By Aedan Brennan
Walking to Belmont Cinema already felt slightly surreal. Eight months of movie prohibition and Netflix seclusion had numbed my movie going senses. Wondering what to watch was a common lockdown occurrence. Option number one: Tiger King, which I resisted viewing until social isolation had worn me down to the brink of despair. Option number two: The Last Dance, which I heartily consumed in a week and was left a new basketball fan, until I realised that my options had run dry. No new content to fill the aching abyss. There’s only so much of The Wire you can take, only so much ceiling starring one lost soul can muster. So, strolling along to the cinema felt unnatural, odd even. I’m going to watch something new and mysterious which doesn’t have a big corporate N plastered all over it. To say I was excited was an understatement.
Oh, how Saint Maud did not disappoint. This film cannot simply be labelled a chilling horror flick. That would be insulting. Director Rose Glass has assembled a masterpiece that propels her to the levels of Kent and Eggers. Joining these two up-and-comers, Glass tackles religious fanaticism, loneliness and may have just produced the horror of the year. Although it doesn’t boast the visual grotesqueness of The Nightingale, it will leave you shuddering in ways you would not expect.
Without giving too much away, Saint Maud tells the story of Maud (Morfydd Clark,) a nurse practitioner and a recent Christian (of sorts). The first scene depicts a morbid hospital accident with Maud cowering in the corner, blood all over her hands and overalls, staring up at a black beetle. Such ambiguity is at the center of this film, stringing the audience along with a trail of suspense. This is what makes Saint Maud truly great, it doesn’t jump the gun until you least expect it. When it does, you’ll be left gasping and grasping for any sort of cover. Following this accident, Maud moves into the private sector caring for patients on the brink of death. This is where she meets Amanda (Jennifer Ehle) her dying patient. Amanda is someone who has lived passionately and exuberantly. A former dancer, she is left wheelchair-bound and isolated. Surprisingly they begin to bond as Maud starts to see Amanda as a religious project. The non-believer who needs to be saved. From this, the film expands on this notion, exploring the characters through this relationship. Tackling the loneliness, the two share, and how they struggle to deal with the despair that accompanies it.
Film critic Mark Kermode sums up this film perfectly and describes it as more a character study rather than a horror. It shares some commonality with A24 films such as Hereditary and Midsommar, yet I tend to agree with his opinion. If you’re expecting jump scares left, right and center, this film somewhat scratches that itch, but you may feel disappointed. Scares are most definitely there, but they are subtly built and completely unanticipated. This is what produces the horror factor. Throughout the film, I could not tell whether I was going to jolt in fear, or pang with sadness. The performances from Morfydd Clark and Jennifer Ehle allow this film to address subject areas in a detailed and deep way. This is not surface-level horror at all, it’s a plunge into important issues that may not be easy to stomach.
I have been scared in the cinema before, when watching Hereditary. It’s quite easy for me to hide behind my fingers in certain moments. Yet through the tiny crack of my index finger and middle finger, I watched the final moments of Saint Maud. Through this crevasse I tried my hardest to block out what I was viewing, yet I needed to finish the film. To create such a reaction, without leaning on common horror mechanisms heavily, is a momentous achievement. Leaving the cinema, I could not speak to my friends, I was left shaking and mumbling. I thought about Saint Maud for days. The last frame of this film will be with me for some time. And that is true horror. Saint Maud felt real, too real. Those 20 seconds shatter all possible notions that this film is as fantastical as Maud’s religious ideology. I longed for my surrealist feelings when walking to this picture. It was so much easier watching Tiger King, but life shouldn’t be reduced to such a simple viewing. I was made to think deeply, and uncomfortably, which for the hard eight months of lockdown was something too scary. Saint Maud brought me back to harsh reality.
Saint Maud is currently showing at Belmont Filmhouse until Thursday 22nd October.
Photo Credit: A24