Rotterdam 2020 Review: SAINT MAUD Knocks You Down With A Punishing Fist

Rose Glass' debut film is a brilliantly disturbing vision of mental decay.

Editor, Europe; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)
Rotterdam 2020 Review: SAINT MAUD Knocks You Down With A Punishing Fist
There are different ways for a film to floor you. Some pull the rug from under you with plot twists and surprises, others take a simple idea and then proceed to push you to the ground with precision and force. Rose Glass' debut film Saint Maud fits proudly and unapologetically in the second category. It will not take viewers long to determine there is something profoundly wrong with protagonist Maud, or what terrible consequences that might have for herself and her surroundings. But the way this is shown, and played out, and felt, makes this film the amazing experience it is.

Maud, played with blistering intensity by Morfydd Clark, is a young nurse who has recently become a private palliative caregiver of dying patients. Her newest employer is Amanda, who faces her approaching end with bitterness and a willingness to wallow in whatever indulgences life still can offer her.

IFFR2020-saint-maud-ext1.jpgThe two characters could hardly be more different, because Maud views pleasure as a distraction to the soul, and is fanatic in her dedication to God. As the days pass and Amanda uses alcohol, drugs, and bi-sexual pleasures of the flesh, Maud becomes more and more convinced she has to save Amanda's soul. When Amanda notices this she cannot resist having a bit of fun with Maud's religious fervor, but little does she know how passionate Maud's beliefs are... or how seriously deranged Maud is in her faith.

All this is shown following Maud, and in an occasional voice-over she explains to viewers exactly how she feels about things, even when she is too polite to obviously show it. First-time director Rose Glass keeps her film lean and mean, focusing fully on Maud's descent towards possible madness, while giving us occasional hints that something may be physically wrong as well. Maud's senses seem warped at times, with light and sound playing tricks, sometimes even throwing Maud into spasms of religious bliss.

These orgasmic 'fits' are terrifying to behold, and accompanied by one of the best soundtracks I've heard in years. Composer Adam Janota Bzowski has concocted a mix of industrial noise and spleen-shaking bass sounds, which make you feel Maud is being crushed by a giant weight, or indeed thrown about by massive supernatural forces.

Jennifer Ehle is great as the disabled Amanda, but the film leans fully on an absolutely fantastic performance by Morfydd Clark. Not a moment passes where you do not feel for her, or with her, even when she terrifies. Will she succumb to madness? Will she become dangerous and catatonic, like in Repulsion, or find solace in insanity, like in Brazil? Watching Morfydd as Maud, you cannot help hoping for the best while fearing the worst...

Saint Maud played at the International Film Festival Rotterdam in the Rotterdämmerung genre programme, and audiences awarded the film a 3.9 out of 5, a score I deem a tad too low.

While it's currently playing the festival circuit, distributor A24 will release the film in select theaters in the US, on April 3rd.

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