Hailed by critics as the best horror film in years, audiences may well take the opposite view of Rose Glass’s seaside horror-show; the popular public rating right now on google in terms of audience score is the lowest one, one out of five. Saint Maud feels like a short film exploded to almost feature length; there’s barely 70 minutes of action for your rental charge, and the narrative can be described in a few lines. The trailer promises a lot, but ten minutes from the end of Glass’ film, you’re not much further forward and neither are the characters.
Maud (Morfydd Clark) is a nurse who has been barred due to a previous incident; she accepts a private care job looking after retired dancer Amanda (Jennifer Erle) who is dying from blood-cancer. Maud takes a proprietorial attitude, and attempts to scare aware Amanda’s lover Carol (Lily Fraser), but ends up fired. Can Maud find her way back into her employer’s good graces, or is some kind of supernatural force controlling her actions? If you’ve seen the trailer, you already know the answer….
Saint Maud is a disturbing film; any feature that sees a young girl mutilating herself, sticking nails through the soles of her feet or being raped by strangers in bedsits should be an uncomfortable watch. But it’s also a public funded British horror film, and as usual, there’s a desire to lead the audience by the nose through the squalour of the lower-classes. Amanda’s arty, posho friends are super-glam and above reproach or criticism, while Maud’s working class environs are sketched in as a living hell-on-earth; the film does a vigorous job of showing Scarborough as a monstrously bleak hell-hole of seedy amusements, brutal sex and predatory rapists.
St Maud is better acted than this kind of lurid Penny Dreadful deserves; Clark and Ehle elevate the material from a base-line of slumming cultural tourism and hackneyed horror exploitation. But eighteen months of solid, unrelenting hype has killed the vague charms of Saint Maud, and the cultural assumptions featured here feel retrograde and insulting. Prospective viewers expecting a constructed, Hereditary-style scare-fest should be made aware that such a film never begins to materialise here; there’s barely a shiver in Saint Maud.