‘Saint Maud’ Review: Not your regular escape to Scarborough…

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Saint Maud is a good, old-fashioned religious allegory engrossing viewers with its horror elements and introducing audiences to the important, local social issues bracing the screen. There was no preaching and there was no scaring.  Halloween wasn’t overwhelmingly spooky this year, at least not spooky in the right way, so this unnerving, eerie drama is actually a good fit and is a strong showing primarily due to the two great main performances. Scarborough also impresses as dark, seedy, richly illuminated, bleakly grey, mundane, rundown; a powerful presence which means something different each time. 

Jennifer Ehle, famous for her enthralling, definitive portrayal of Lizzie Bennet in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice, gives Joan Crawford a run for her money as a terminally ill patient who still has amazing cheekbones. Ehle has a riot playing the somewhat famous, worldly Amanda who returns to her roots by the sea, though only to spend her last days there with Maud as her palliative nurse.

Maud played by Morfydd Clark, does a phenomenal job of playing the lead character that needs to be sanctimoniously rude, self-assured though churlish and having strong conviction which is also shown to be feeble. It’s a great performance, which wasn’t a surprise as Clark is different and good every time, I see her in something. Clark pulls off the hardest task of all which is being like someone that you know in real life throughout this heightened drama. Maud, I’d argue, is still relatable – who doesn’t hate being surrounded by artists or judging vacuous advertisements on TV? The script isn’t really memorable, there are a few unique camera angles but no mastery, so it is the acting that makes this a highly watchable short and sharp film. Not highly original, but still a deserving addition to the new quiet horror genre.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Saint Maud is Black Swan set in Scarborough. Someone who puts a lot of pressure on themself goes out, obviously then makes a mess of it, but this time it’s in a small-town setting where everyone knows each other. The horror! In one scene, Maud dons a shimmery, sparkly sequined top – a visual codifier and cliché for a female character surrendering to her sexual urges whilst clearly being mentally unwell– and plunges out of her religious comfort zone, going out on her own. She looks across the bar, lonely, and her internalised, self-loathing of her wanton self feels justified. The people in the room are boring, Maud looks terrible and haggard, the conversations around her are stifling and this is normal. 

This isn’t a horror scene with gore and fantasy, it is realism that speaks about the people who go out in their thousands in small towns, find nothing to do and can’t even experience the pure hedonism of a large crowd, that films so often depict when a character is losing control. 

Maud dresses grimly, her plain white plastic bags are sad, and her missish reactions to anything remotely adult that Amanda does, betrays Maud as, superficially and deep down, a spiritless person. Harsh to say, but the Maud we see throughout the whole film is a shell of herself. There is an ambiguity to how she became so despaired – two of the most important words of the film in my opinion weren’t even spoken but instead were gleaned from reading something on the screen. This sour woman is still remarkably young which the film emphasises. The main problem in this unnamed end-of-the-road town is the unemployed and unoccupied young. Stuck in “this dump” with nothing to do, social housing populated with transported youth who are strangers in this English resort. Falling through the cracks and no cheery prospects to dream about. 

A24

The whole film was worth watching, personally, just to see Scarborough lit at night. The streetlights reflecting on the South Bay, hats and gloves to make up for wearing short jackets. The same spot of sand shown looking strange, reflecting the change in weather and mood for each day. People outside on the beach at night, their own culture and traditions, looking like Berlin I’ve been told and on-screen definitely beautiful. A gothic beauty. 

This Halloween re-release was the closest I got to my hometown this year; film can still transport you to places you didn’t know were possible.  A quiet horror film which displaces the viewer into this trapped seaside setting with a pinched-faced protagonist is a stimulating form of escapism. Takes you away and then confronts you with real-life issues, unflinching and gripping. A potent form of social commentary.

Image Credit: Slash Film