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MOVIES: Saint Maud (LFF 2019) - Review

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Saint Maud is a revelation, a film that I went into knowing almost nothing about and was utterly blown away by it. If a comparison must be drawn, think Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver by way of The Exorcist from the perspective of a female gaze rather than male one, with first time director Rose Glass establishing Saint Maud as an utterly compelling entry to the British horror canon. The film uses the backdrop of a small English town to introduce audiences to a newly converted Christian named Maud who is a reclusive live-in Nurse for her current patient, and the increasingly extreme lengths that Maud goes to try and save her patient’s soul.

Given the film's genre it's no spoiler to say that it's not just a hard watch but also an intense one, even once you reach a point where you think you what direction Saint Maud is likely headed in, it still finds a way to keep you invested and unable to look away. It is unflinching in its take as to how religious devotion can go off the rails when positioned in the hands of the wrong person, and although sometimes voice-over narration can drag films down when used clumsily, it worked in Saint Maud’s favour here - with the atmosphere that Glass created here really leaving an impression. With most key scenes taking place at night or in dimly lit houses, be they expensive private homes or cheap apartments, Saint Maud utilises a collection of religious iconography to get its point across in the best way possible, as we really get inside Maud’s mind and understand what makes her tick and why she goes to the lengths that she goes to. As well as Taxi Driver and The Exorcist, the film has echoes of First Reformed and The Witch, but manages to stand out on its own in its own field, thanks in no small part to the stellar, completely committed performance by Morfydd Clark, who was ever so brilliant in a supporting role for The Personal History of David Copperfield, transformed in an entirely different role here.

Clark is on screen for a vast majority of the screentime, and we really get inside her character’s head-space as a new convert and she does an excellent job at making the audience feel sympathetic to her character’s plight. Although one could argue that the acceleration towards the final act happens a bit too suddenly, it is conveyed across in a believable and authentic way that feels realistic considering its genre, and by the time the film increases the tension the world is completely realised, with the tone being very much set from early on in the film. The clash between good and evil, heaven and hell is never as clear as it has been painted in the past and the film pushes boundaries in both the characters and the audience, but every moment feels necessary, with no need for anything to be extra gratuitous for necessary reasons.

Mercifully avoiding jump scares apart from one or two shocking moments that aren’t used cheaply, Saint Maud fits nicely into the psychological horror genre whilst bringing something new to its field in a way that hasn’t quite been covered before, especially in the United Kingdom. It stands alone as a one of a kind experience, and emerges as one of the best surprises of the London Film Festival to date. If you’re tired of the more mainstream horror films on offer this year and want something that is truly original and creative, not afraid to take huge risks in its subject matter taking an ambiguous approach that makes room for plenty of questions, Saint Maud is utterly essential with its final shot being the most haunting of them all.

Saint Maud is airing at the London Film Festival this month and you can watch a clip from the film here.

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