There has been a curious phenomenon over the last few years, of female directors making their directorial debuts with outstanding horror films. Among them: Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night), Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), Julia Ducournau (Raw) and Natalie Erika James (with the upcoming Relic). British first-time feature filmmaker Rose Glass can be added to that list now with Saint Maud, a creepy tale of religious devotion gone awry.
Rising star Morfydd Clark – recently seen in the BBC’s His Dark Materials and Dracula and now shooting the hugely anticipated The Lord of the Rings TV series – plays Maud. A private nurse and recent Catholic convert working in a ramshackle seaside town (the exteriors were shot in Scarborough, although Hastings was the inspiration, apparently), Maud takes on a new client, an embittered and bed-ridden former dancer named Amanda (Jennifer Ehle).
A cruel mistress, the terminally-ill Amanda occasionally delights in mocking Maud. She also has a lover Carol (Lily Frazer) who seemingly threatens the bond between nurse and patient. Gradually, Maud decides it’s her role to save her dying charge’s soul, but the underlying story is how Maud’s religious calling threatens to unbalance her sanity. A meltdown ensues, bringing to mind Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, with Catherine Deneuve’s isolated beautician losing it in her London apartment.
The horror is of the psychological kind, with Glass also drawing on films ranging from Taxi Driver to Misery, but always managing to drive Saint Maud in a different direction. It’s not a film flush with jump-scares, although there are moments that the squeamish among you may find uncomfortable. Largely, it’s an interior journey into Maud’s mind that becomes increasingly fractured in this lonely, windswept seaside setting.
Making excellent use of Paulina Rzeszowska’s production design and Ben Fordesman’s cinematography, Glass also draws out remarkable work from Clark, who may well look back on Saint Maud as a turning point in her career. In years to come, people will remember what she – and Glass – did in Saint Maud. Stylish, evocative and thought-provoking, it digs deep into the psyche of a troubled, young woman across a tight, taut and sometimes terrifying 83 minutes.
Saint Maud is in cinemas from 9 October. For more details, click here.