GORE IN THE STORE
SAINT MAUD *****
Directed by Rose Glass.
Starring Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Knight.
Horror, U.K. 84 minutes, 15.
On DVD, Blu-ray & Digital 1st February.
Religious faith is given a sinister view in writer and director Rose Glass's fascinating character study of a truly lost soul. Set in a Northern seaside town, this tale of a palliative nurse looking for signs of her belief is a gothic master class in escalating dread featuring a barnstorming performance from Morfydd Clark as the titular Maud. Suffering from PTSD from a horrifying incident that has seen her relocate and discover a new found Christian faith, Maud finds herself caring for Amanda, Jennifer Ehle.
Dying slowly from spinal lymphoma, Amanda is bemused by Maud's spiritual nature. With her bohemian background as a dancer, her still promiscuous nature is immediately at odds with that of Maud's. Believing that she is actually in contact with God, Maud believes she can save Amanda's soul. The examination of Maud that follows is an exercise in kitchen sink gothic with flashes of the fantastical.
Told entirely from Maud's point of view we are left in doubt to the very end of what is real and imagined. The astonishing performance of Clark supports this tightrope act of keeping the audience guessing. With her sing-song Welsh accent voiceover we gain access to what makes her tick while still being kept a distance to what has brought on such religious fervour. The script and performance are often funny, particularly when Maud unwittingly passes judgment on those around her that don't have her faith or get on her nerves. However, she is an entirely sympathetic character and the more we bear witness to her spiritual nature and self-doubt of it, the more engrossed we become.
Seen recently in THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD, where she gave an entirely different type of performance, Clark gives a performance here which if it were not for the sniffy mainstream attitude towards horror would see her as an awards contender. Her attempts to connect socially are as painful to watch as her acts of self masochism to prove her faith to a self-righteous God just out of reach. It is a performance that runs the full range from quiet to wide-eyed acts of contortion of the face and body accompanied by full-throated screaming that enthrals like no other character in horror cinema recently.
As a debut, it's an exciting one for Rose Glass. Her tight script, coming in under ninety minutes, shows a degree of control and restraint. She knows when to let the film rip loose with its wilder elements, one particular scene probably caused the most significant and loudest scare reaction from what seemed the entire auditorium at its Glasgow FrightFest screening. As Maud roams the streets of the coastal towns with their various arcades and greasy spoon cafes passing judgment on those around her she comes across like a feminine and fanatical Travis Bickle. The dark, oppressive manner that Amanda resides in, situated on top of a windswept and drizzle covered hill is straight out of a gothic novel where Ehle makes the most of her bitchy, wheezy character. Although suffering horribly from her condition, the glint in her eye as she pushes and prods at Maud's faith is there for all to see.
Disturbing and blackly humorous SAINT MAUD is one of the most exciting British horror films in some time. Career making for its director and star, it is a provocative and disturbing take on faith and religion that will surely go on to inspire its cult following in the years to come.