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  Saint Maud Holy Terror
Year: 2019
Director: Rose Glass
Stars: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Knight, Lily Frazer, Turlough Convery, Rosie Sansom, Marcus Hutton, Carl Prekopp, Noa Bodner, Takatsuna Makai, Jej Djenal, Joanna Richardson
Genre: Horror, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: Maud (Morfydd Clark) is not her real name. She changed it to reflect the changes she felt psychologically after an accident in the hospital she was working in left one patient dead. Back then she was called Katie, but Katie is a non-person now, it's Maud who matters, but who matters to Maud? That would be God Almighty, who she speaks to as she prays, asking Him for redemption or at least a sign he is watching and looking out for her, but more importantly give her a purpose in life to follow. In the meantime, she works as a palliative carer, and her latest charge is Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), an ex-dancer who is deteriorating from a terminal illness...

Amanda is past saving, or her body is, anyway, but what about her soul? Maud, being of a religious bent, is looking for a project to either channel her need for dogoodery or demonstrate the heights of her piety and devotion to God, which is where the problems come in. Not unlike a Biblical parable, writer and director Rose Glass (making her debut feature after ten years of shorts) allowed her protagonist to be a vessel for the unknowable, perhaps the Holy Spirit is orchestrating her behaviour, or perhaps she is slowly going completely insane from her beliefs. What was clear was this was not going to end well, and there was a real malice at work, be it hers or her deity's.

Or it could be the Devil trying to lead Maud astray, this was a particularly ambiguous work that was serious about one thing, that religion messes you up. There was no room for the milk of human kindness in the tenets the lead character clings to, this was all about teaching some very harsh lessons about giving your soul over to God; it was not as if the alternative was dire, because the consequences of accepting Him into your life with that obsession were just as awful. It was notable that this was a very male presence, for God was undoubtedly a masculine force in Maud's life, to accompany all the other feckless males she encounters who would exploit her in some way.

Not that anybody in this seaside town is a nice person, exactly, though there are degrees. Maud's former workmate Joy (Lily Knight) seems to perceive the problems she is going through and tries to help, but is too ineffectual to succeed, while Amanda, who does give her a book of William Blake art (Blake is both counterpart and bad influence here), is more interested in her louche showbiz pals who show up intermittently to wish her well and commiserate. Maud comes to see this as her role alone, and though these two lonely women could have provided succour for one another, the Christianity gets in the path of what should be simple comfort. One misjudged act sends the carer into her own wilderness: she may be mentally ill, or maybe that illness has made her easy prey for forces beyond her comprehension.

It is true that many viewers did not draw much from Saint Maud, who found the gradual pace offputting and could not sympathise with the characters, though that would be missing the point, as we were not necessarily supposed to like these people, and indeed did not need to in order to find the descent portrayed disturbing (an ascent in Maud's mind). If you had ever been in the company of someone whose mental state had driven them to acts of self-harm or even self-destruction, or had been that person yourself, you would recognise how accomplished Glass depicted the psychosis, and if it was not psychosis and this was a more traditional possession horror, and you had experience of the straitjacket of the faculties that religion could be if it goes wrong, then it was equally disquieting. With references to such touchstones as Taxi Driver, Carrie and The Entity, this remained its own work, contained a superb central performance that would get under the skin of anybody who felt sorry for Maud, and at least one enormous jump scare Glass was not above including. In its decaying milieu, it started quietly and grew utterly horrible, letting nobody off the hook. Music by Adam Janota Bzowski.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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