For the very first time Andrew Hebden one of QUEERGURU’s London team has literally moved into London’s South Bank for the next 2 weeks to cover the prestigious BFI London Film Festival . He’ll be reviewing not just all the excellent queer films screening there but movies he thinks will appeal to the whole Queerguru audience .
This is his first review ……. and another new first for us as it is a lesbian horror film’…. not a genre we cover very often . Saint Maud already has a distributor for UK, US and other countries , so expect to see it in a movie theater soon.
Creepy and dark as a slug this story of trauma converted into religious obsession skillfully slips between psychology and the supernatural by relying on superb acting and camera work rather than CGI trickery.
Maud (Morfydd Clark) is a palliative care nurse. After some unshown horror she has decided that it is more important to “Never waste your pain” than to deal with whatever has cracked her sanity. Her calling is now to rescue her terminal patients from end-of-life distractions and force them to embrace eternal grace.
Her patient is the cancer stricken chain smoker Amanda (Jennifer Ehle). After a successful dance career her body has started to fail her and her stunning looks can barely be revived by wigs and makeup. Turning away from the inevitable Amanda grasps at a last, paid for fling, with the gorgeous but hardened party girl Carol (Lily Frazer)
It is not the lesbianism that rouses Maud’s religious objections. Her concern is that the sensual Carol is encouraging Amanda to ignore the more important mental work needed to secure the ecstasy of redemption. It turns out that Maud is more than familiar with using sex to avoid looking inward. Maud’s piety does not come from any sense of prudery, as her drunken trawling of the local bars illustrates.
The mixture of physical and spiritual is what sets this movie apart. It is not one of those horror films that relies on obscure quotes from the bible or ritual based incursions from the dark side. It mesmerizingly projects religious experience on the pains, desires, and failings of the body and mind. It has the disquieting realism of a nightmare.
Written and directed by Rose Glass there are a fair few nods to its horror predecessors. It starts off by side eyeing the schlocky blood soaked menstrual metaphors that plague male written female centered horror. When Amanda is introduced she is heartily called ‘a cunt’ by her carer. It quickly moves on from Carrie to The Exorcist territory whilst not getting too weighed down by Catholic cant. Glass happily supplies the references without losing her originality.
Ehle is captivating as the dancer unready to leave the spotlight. Her fragile flashes of cruelty at Maud make her more appealingly human. Clark is a master class in rendering special effects unnecessary. Wracked by invading forces or simply acting out her disturbed mania her body tells as much of the story as her face.
Saint Maud is a thoughtful exposition of horror without being too ponderous. At its heart it poses a provocative question. Do we create distractions so we don’t have to think about God or do we create God to distract us from thinking about ourselves?