Saint Maud (2019) Movie Review - Fantastic Slow Burn British Horror

Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller | 84 Min
Saint Maud is number 2 in our list of underrated British Horror
  • Director: Rose Glass
  • Actors: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Elhe, Caoilfhionn Dunne, Marcus Hutton, Lily Frazer
  • Writers: Rose Glass
  • Producers: Oliver Kassman
  • Country: United Kingdom
  • Language: English, Welsh
  • Parental: Sexual Content Including Implied Masturbation, Sex Without Consent, And Non-graphic Sex, Language, Self Harm, Violence, Injury Detail, Alcohol And Tobacco Use,
  • Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller | 84 Min

A pious nurse becomes dangerously obsessed with saving the soul of her dying patient.

Today we are taking a look at another fantastic horror movie from the UK. Well, I say horror but, as with our review of Calibre, Saint Maud is more of a drama based thriller with horror elements. The horror genre is so diverse, however, that I believe it fits on a horror movie review site just fine. The ratio of horror to drama in Saint Maud is just enough for it to qualify.

Before I start, it is probably worth me mentioning that I loved Saint Maud. I understand it will not be for everyone. Some people may be bored due to the movie’s slow pacing and lack of action and that’s absolutely fine, I definitely understand that. For everyone else, there is a fantastic movie here that keeps you engrossed. Saint Maud creates a horrifically bleak world that is hard to forget.

Saint Maud Ending Explained

We have covered Saint Maud in a Horror Movie Ending Explained article so feel free to go and check that out if you have just watched the movie and are looking for answers.

Everyone else should avoid the article as it is impossible to write without filling the article with spoilers. This review is spoiler free so stay here and carry on reading.

Saint Maud

Saint Maud follows the life of Maud (Morfydd Clark), a nurse providing palliative care for a woman called Amanda (Jennifer Ehle) in the extremely depressingly presented seaside resort of Scarborough. Amanda is suffering from terminal cancer but was formerly a world renowned American dancer.

Maud from Psychological horror movie Saint Maud

Maud’s life is consumed by religion and her belief in God

Although we know little about her past, it appears as though Maud once worked at a nursing home but was involved in an incident. Formerly something of a party girl with an affinity for hook ups, she has since converted to Christianity (Catholicism I believe). Maud has become extremely devout in her beliefs, some might say fanatical. She believes God speaks directly to her and is instructing her personally. She sees signs of God in everyday mundane things and all of her actions are based around her religious beliefs.

In stark contrast to Maud, Amanda is a free spirit used to living life in the limelight. After touring the world as a dancer, living the high life, she has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. She is confined to a wheelchair and feels jaded by her current existence. Amanda struggles to cope with the boredom of her everyday life. She smokes and drinks profusely and spends much of her time with a lady, Carol (Lily Frazer). Amanda pays Carol for sex and company but also spends time with another man. Amanda is wry, quick witted, and sceptical of life as a whole.

An Interesting Dichotomy

Maud is employed to provide care for Amanda. This opens up an interesting relationship between two entirely different types of people. The religious Maud, devout and living without sin. Amanda the hedonistic former world famous dancer devoid of belief in anything.

Amanda, amused by the pious and extremely serious Maud, begins to warm up to her carer. For better or for worse she engages her on her beliefs. Amanda even attempts to share in the feelings experienced by Maud.

Maud experiences God on a level that few others apparently do. She actually feels God and God provides her with an almost sexual form of pleasure. She preaches scripture to Amanda and passes minor judgement over the way she is living her life. Amanda appears to listen but it seems apparent that she is almost amused by the things Maud says and sees her as something of a distraction from the boredom and loneliness of her life. Over time, the two become closer and actually begin to enjoy each other’s company.

Amanda from Psychological horror movie Saint Maud

Jennifer Ehle as Amanda is fantastic

Maud notices that Amanda is being visited by Carol frequently. It is apparent to Maud that Amanda is paying Carol for sex. Maud doesn’t approve of this debauchery as it evidently goes against her religious beliefs. Under the guise of protecting Amanda; Maud warns Carol to leave and never contact Amanda again. It’s at this point that things begin to unravel for Maud.

Mental Illness or Divine Intervention?

It is very apparent that the religious beliefs of Maud are the engine driving the story. All the actions in the movie revolve around them. The ending of the movie is the culmination of all of these beliefs. There is a prevailing question throughout, however, and that is whether Maud is genuinely experiencing these events or whether she is mentally unwell.

This is a fairly obvious theme when it comes to these types of psychological horror movies. Is Maud actually communicating with God? Maud’s faith is exceptional and she believes God talks directly to her (in Welsh no less). She performs acts of self flagellation and self harm in the name of spiritual discipline and lives a meagre existence. Her greatest pleasure comes from the almost orgasmic feeling she gets when she feels God.

Saint Maud leans heavily into this theme and, indeed, it is the backbone of the movie. From the honest intent to care for another person right through to the horrific events that unfold, Maud is simply following the instruction of God. She, unfortunately, falls down an increasingly deep spiral of events pertaining to her religious beliefs and the innate desire to stray from them. She believes she has a mission directly from God and will follow it through to the end.

Extremely Well Done

The mental health and religion aspect is something that Saint Maud does well. Better than many other movies I have seen in fact. The presentation of religious devotion as being a potential mental illness is so seamless. You never quite know which of the two Maud is experiencing. Of course, I have an idea but I will expand on that in my upcoming Saint Maud Ending Explained article.

Maud from Psychological horror movie Saint Maud

We learn more about Maud’s past from awkward meetings with her friend.

Crucially, we see everything through Maud’s perspective. There is no ambiguity with what Maud is seeing; through her eyes, these things are happening to her. These events could, in reality, be genuinely happening. Or it could, however, be a case of psychosis brought on by a severe mental illness. Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder all feature psychosis as a symptom.

Psychosis is the loss of contact with reality. I am a bipolar disorder sufferer and have personal experience with this. Psychosis is the absolute belief in the things you are thinking, or experiencing, being real. Whether it is the delusion that you are invincible, something I have experienced with my own condition, or something more severe such as hallucinations. Perception is reality and the director of Saint Maud, Rose Glass, has a keen understanding of this. Utilising this fact to keep the ambiguity alive throughout the movie and making Maud’s reality all the more scary.

Fantastic Directing, and Cinematography

I think people would have a hard time believing that this is Rose Glass’s feature length directorial debut. That’s without mentioning that she is also the writer. What a fantastic debut and a new name to watch out for in the horror world. (Worth noting as I update this review that she knocked it out of the park with follow up title Love Lies Bleeding). Everything is beautifully done from the pacing and style right through to the story and everything in between.

The decision to use Scarborough as the backdrop for this movie was perfect. This once incredible town is somewhat down on its luck. It is seeing many of the same problems as the other seaside resorts in the UK. Filming during, what I assume to be, the dreary winter months was an inspired move. The town provides an incredibly bleak and depressing backdrop to the events of the movie.

Maud in Psychological horror movie Saint Maud

Scarborough is a suitably depressing location.

Cinematography is exceptional. It does a fantastic job of framing the morbid atmosphere created by the story and location. There’s a significant use of handheld cameras. It almost feels like you are watching over the shoulders of the characters. This lends a very personal feeling to many of the scenes. You are drawn right into the room with Maud in her most vulnerable moments.

Lighting is gloomy and extremely moody but perfect for the theme. There are lots of ambient views of the Scarborough coast. There are, also, plenty of drawn out, lingering shots. All of this really pulls you in. There is a very deliberate depressive grimness to everything. A haze covers many of the shots. The greyness of the environment underscores the mood of the movie perfectly. There’s also extensive use of religious iconography hidden throughout the film. It is a wonderfully immersive audio and visual experience throughout, as miserable as it is.

Powerful Acting Performances

Saint Maud features some fantastic acting performances from the two leads. Morfydd Clark, as Maud, is incredible. She has a hell of a task basically carrying the entire movie shot by shot. Maud is the absolute focus of the story and Morfydd is entirely up to the task. She is very fitting as a meek, pious woman of faith. You can also entirely believe the darker elements of her character. Subtle facial expressions reflect deep emotions. On top of this, she carries with her a sense of vulnerability that belies some of the events in the film.

Some of the scenes Morfydd Clark is in must have been difficult to film. The range of emotions she has to portray are vast but she does a fantastic job. As a Welsh dude, it’s nice to see a Welsh actor doing really well. It’s also very nice to see the use of the Welsh language injected into the movie. It did make me laugh to see someone refer to it as “some demonic tongue” in a user review. Nope, it is Welsh.

Jennifer Ehle is also fantastic as Amanda. She adds an incredibly fitting sarcastic tone to the character. Jennifer perfectly represents the globe trotting, high profile, dancer she portrays. She also does a great job of evoking sympathy from the viewer given her condition. We are supposed to see her as bitter and spiteful. Jennifer Ehle forces us to see what the cancer has stolen from her and draws sympathy. She is likeable but with a hint of pretention. There is always the suggestion that she could be make your life very difficult if you got on the wrong side of her.

Should You Watch Saint Maud?

You should definitely watch Saint Maud but with a couple of caveats. That you don’t expect a traditional horror and you have a tolerance for slow moving stories. Saint Maud is a fantastic Psychological horror movie that leans a lot more towards drama and thriller than traditional horror elements. It may not be for everyone due to this. The pacing is deliberate and slow with little in the way of action or scares but beneath this is a fantastic movie that burrows into your head and stays there long after the movie has finished.<

Expertly balancing themes of religion, mental health, mortality and purpose, Saint Maud is a disturbing movie that demonstrates the fine line between fanaticism and insanity. Featuring fantastic acting from Morfydd Clark and Jennifer Ehle as well as some truly disturbing scenes, Saint Maud can’t be recommended to everyone. Traditional horror fans may find little to enjoy but fans of psychological horror, thrillers, that are happy to take a deep character dive will absolutely love this movie.

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