In writer/director Rose Glass’ film, Morfydd Clark plays the part of Maud: a quiet, introverted, pious and God-fearing young woman who, while searching for her true calling in life, becomes a carer to the cancer-stricken Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a former dancer and someone who Maud sees as having something of a wicked side, and as the troubled young girl takes it upon herself to save Amanda’s soul, she soon finds her faith being tested and she soon spirals out of control as she takes whatever steps she feels are necessary to complete the Lord’s work.
Although Saint Maud isn’t scary or chilling enough to be classed as a true horror, nor does it ever get tense or uncomfortable enough to work as a thriller, this relatively short film (clocking in at a nowadays unheard of 84 minutes) is still a very well crafted film that presents us with an interesting story and a fascinating and complex main character who is played brilliantly by Morfydd Clark.
Starting off with the aforementioned actress, as the main character of the piece and appearing in every scene (in a film that essentially only has two characters to speak of), Clark – appearing reminiscent of Sissy Spacek in Carrie, in my opinion – performs very well and she is able to present several different facets of her character, giving a nuanced performance and ultimately being a most intriguing screen presence; at times, it’s pretty easy to like her as she often appears shy, sweet and lonely, just wanting some direction in life and to do right by the big guy upstairs, but as she begins to unravel, when she makes bad mistakes and doesn’t know what she’s supposed to do, she appears far more unhinged and we get the impression that she could do something dangerous at any time and it’s also interesting to note that she seems to experience definite sexual pleasure as she does God’s work and as she intentionally punishes herself by putting spikes in her shoes. Clark’s performance really is an intriguing one as she never goes over the top and she’s able to give an off-putting and ominous performance in a relatively subtle way – through a look or a way of moving her body – and she really makes the role her own.
Alongside, Jennifer Ehle plays the second most important character of the piece and as the former diva and performance artist Amanda Köhl, she does well in giving off a sense of insoucience and a resigned nature while always hinting that she’s still a diva and a force to be reckoned with; like Clark, Ehle doesn’t go overboard with the whole “drama queen who’s fallen on hard times” bit, but her performance is subtle and she provides a neat counterpoint to Clark’s troubled Maud.
Behind the camera, Rose Glass directs well as she’s able to let us know what is going on inside the main character’s head when there’s no dialogue and she injects the film with a few innovative directorial touches, though her pacing can be a little too slow and uncomfortable, and she also writes a good script as the story is intriguing, there are many dark themes, and her central character sure is an intriguing and magnetic one. The film also looks good and the score is creepy but, as I mentioned at the start, it’s also flawed because it isn’t really scary (though a few jump scares took me by surprise) and although Glass manages to create a mysterious atmosphere, it could’ve done a lot more and could’ve been a lot more engrossing because even though this is the kind of film that is supposed to suck you in and jangle your nerves, I found that the film kept me at a distance and the filmmakers didn’t quite succeed in creating a truly menacing and shocking atmosphere.
But it DOES have a scene in which God speaks Welsh. So that’s just wonderful.