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VOD Review: Saint Maud

February 12, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The lines between faith, fundamentalism, and religious extremism get increasingly blurred in Saint Maud, an unsettling mix of slow-burn horror and psychological drama that serves as a promising feature directorial debut for British writer-director Rose Glass.

The film, which premiered at TIFF in 2019 as part of the Midnight Madness lineup and was set to receive a theatrical release last spring before COVID-19 thwarted those plans, is finally being released digitally today.

The title character is Maud (Morfydd Clark), a young palliative care nurse in the United Kingdom who takes a job providing end of life care for a middle-aged woman named Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a former dance choreographer who is dying of cancer.

Maud is deeply religious to the point of scrupulosity, and sees it as her spiritual duty to save her patient’s soul by helping her find a connection with God before she passes away. But Amanda, who refers to Maud as “my little saviour,” a term of both mockery and endearment, doesn’t share the same values, and would rather spend her remaining time indulging in the physical pleasures of alcohol and sex. This causes Maud to become increasingly controlling of her life, blurring boundaries between caregiver and patient in inappropriate ways.

The film is built around Clark’s quiet, understated performance as Maud, and it’s a major testament to her acting that we fully believe the convictions of her character. There is an impressive physicality to her performance as well. Maud moves with a sort of eery calmness, as if being guided by an invisible hand, and Clark brings a graceful, dancer-like quality to her character’s very precise movements. For her part, Ehle also does excellent work, and we really feel the possibly sexual tension between the two.

Glass deserves major credit for not revealing her hand too early in the game, opting instead to keep us in the dark for much of the time in a way that replicates Maud’s fraught mental state, really allowing us to get inside her head and see things from her perspective. Yes, Saint Maud is very much a slow burn, but it’s the sort of film that lingers, pacing things out before delivering a visceral shock in the last act.

The cinematography by Ben Fordesman has a foreboding look to it, which is heightened by the story’s moody North Yorkshire setting. The film is well paced at only 84 minutes long, and it builds toward a haunting and disturbing crescendo that drives home the underlying themes about piousness turning into fanaticism and dangerous obsession. The result is an absorbing and unsettling glimpse into extreme mental illness masquerading as religious faith.

Saint Maud is now available to watch on a variety of Digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by Elevation Pictures.

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