Saint Maud

 

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A recent convert to Roman Catholicism, a care worker is haunted by demonic visions in a thriller more dour than disturbing.

   

Saint Maud  

The devil of a time: Morfydd Clark

 

It’s been quite a fortnight for Morfydd Clark. Last week, in Craig Roberts’ Eternal Beauty, she was jilted at the altar and descended into mental instability. Here, she plays Maud, who is resolved to save the soul of a bitter patient in her care. Whereas Jane in Eternal Beauty had become a victim of her palliative medication, Maud is the casualty of religious fanaticism. A recent convert to Roman Catholicism, she lives in a bare, dingy flat in Scarborough, with only the images of Jesus for decoration. The surroundings of her new home, while plush in their day, are now just as forbidding and inhospitable. And her patient, Amanda Kohl (Jennifer Ehle), a former dancer, is no more welcoming. Yet Maud grows fond of the older woman and becomes quite protective of her, emptying her bottles of Scotch down the sink and warning off unsuitable visitors. Of course, it’s a recipe for disaster.

 

Like Eternal Beauty, Rose Glass’s Saint Maud invites the viewer into the mindscape of its protagonist, complete with the disorientating hallucinations to which the mentally unstable are privy. But Maud’s self-flagellation is only too real, evidenced by the whip marks on her back and when she kneels on hard kernels to pray. However, whereas Roberts’ film was based on a real person and was tempered by compassionate humour, Saint Maud dresses itself up as a full-blown thriller. Blighted by many tropes of the Gothic horror genre, it leads the viewer to expect something really, really scary – or at least, something with a plot.

 

Yet it succeeds neither as a chiller nor as a convincing portrait of Catholic extremism. Had the writer-director injected a note of contrast, or lessened Morfydd Clark’s solitary load by introducing more empathetic characters, the heavy-handedness of it all might have been spared. As it is, Glass’s film – her debut feature – remains one-note throughout, from the claustrophobia of Maud’s flat, to the grim, under-lit austerity of Amanda’s house, to the bleak promenade of Scarborough, punctuated only by the tawdry seaside attraction of an amusement arcade and a local pub haunted by predatory men. It is all too ominous to ring true and Morfydd Clark’s committed performance is not enough to salvage what is ultimately a dour and tedious experience.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Knight, Lily Frazer, Turlough Convery, Rosie Sansom, Marcus Hutton, Carl Prekopp and Nancy the cockroach.

 

Dir Rose Glass, Pro Andrea Cornwell and Oliver Kassman, Screenplay Rose Glass, Ph Ben Fordesman, Pro Des Paulina Rzeszowska, Ed Mark Towns, Music Adam Janota Bzowski, Costumes Tina Kalivas.

 

Escape Plan Productions/Film4 Productions/British Film Institute-StudioCanal.

84 mins. UK. 2019. Rel: 9 October 2020. Cert. 15.