Saint Maud: Morfydd Clark is astonishing in this religious horror.
Image Courtesy of Empire
By Ed Streatfield
In Rose Glass’ directional debut, “Saint Maud” is a tantalising character study of psychosexual repression, spiritual possession, and asphyxiating tension. Standing on the shoulders of influences such as “Carrie” and “The Exorcist”, Glass boldly asserts herself as one of the most exciting British prospects of recent times.
In the film, Maud (Morfydd Clark), a new convert to Catholicism and hospice nurse tends to a promiscuous cancer patient and former ballet dancer, Amanda (Jennifer Ehle). For Maud, religion takes the form of overwhelming physical dominion; Every lived experience and emotion is guided by the possessive power of the Holy Spirit, as subjectivity and objectivity blur. Each time she feels God’s presence, she inhales his breath with same euphoria that comes with shooting up heroin, and her relationship with God just as corroding.
As she tends to Amanda, Maud becomes enticed by her life, leading her on a mission to ‘save her soul’. In reality, Amanda is sleeping with a female prostitute she has become emotionally attached too pre-mortem. Maud’s reaction of jealously is taken by her as a message from God which highlights the true question of the film: How intertwined are the parrels between psychosis and religious zeal?
This is the question that Glass plays with perfectly. Dogmatic faith, mental illness and repressed desire blur into one, as the audience is put into the spiked soles of Maud’s shoes. An act she actually commits, as once she flirts with sin, she repents to God by inserting nails into her clogs. This of course, as with most Cronenbergian Body Horror, is not a cheap tactic to repulse, but a metaphor for religious guilt. A pain actualised for the audience to relate to.
From what I have written it may appear that Glass comes across with snide secularism, but the sympathy and compassion she has for her characters are refreshingly humanistic. Amanda, although framed by Maud as a temptress, lives the same reality as her. They are both responding to traumatic events in their lives, the crucial difference being the danger of repressed desire contorting at the whim of neurosis.
On a technical level the acting is superb. Morfydd Clark plays Maud with such honesty that she personifies her character type, leaving me realising I had met her in other people. People so introverted, so repressed, it leaves me fearing for what lies underneath their eyes.
The cinematography and soundtrack are expressionist to the core. Rooms are shot with forceful constriction making it impossible to escape the omnipresent judgement of God’s stare. This is the brilliance of Saint Maud and why it has attained so much acclaim in a seemingly desolate year of cinema. The stare of God is so relatable, even for the most virement atheist, because it serves the function of fatalism through anxiety.
Saint Maud is in cinemas now.