When put in charge of hospice care for a hedonistic dancer dying of cancer, religious nurse Maud becomes obsessed with saving her soul from eternal damnation.
Saint Maud is a horror film that uncomfortably explores a lot of extremes: extreme faith, extreme isolation, extreme pain. It is an unsettling, visceral viewing experience about a woman’s descent into madness that deserves to become a genre favourite. Read our little interview with director Rose Glass and producer Andrea Cornwell below!
You can see the World Premiere of Saint Maud at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, screening as part of Midnight Madness on Sunday, September 8 at 11:59PM, Tuesday, September 10 at 10:00PM, and Sunday, September 15 at 1:30PM.
Saint Maud is very clearly influenced by horror films from the 1960s and 70s. Can you talk about where some of your inspiration came from?
Rose Glass: Rosemary’s Baby is my favourite film. Repulsion is a big reference for the tonal and visual world it’s set in. It isn’t exclusively horror though. Bergman was a big influence — The Silence, Persona, Through a Glass Darkly which is a fantastic film with a central lead that’s about her relationship with God. Taxi Driver was an influence, The Passion of Joan of Arc.
I think there are so many similarities between Maud and Joan of Arc.
Andrea Cornwell: In her head, definitely!
RG: Through researching stuff to do with mental health and religion, there’s a lot of people who believe that Joan of Arc suffered from frontal lobe epilepsy. It’s interesting thinking about the changing attitudes depending on what time you’re born into. Hearing voices up until maybe not even that long ago was probably taken as a sign of divinity.
AC: Maud seeks comfort in it. You learn quite quickly in the movie that she’s not been living this life for very long. Who she is when we meet her at the beginning of the movie is very much an echo of a huge number of events that have happened to her.
What I found so interesting is that there are so many movies about losing faith and this was sort of the opposite. What’s your relationship to religion?
RG: It’s very different to Maud. I’m not religious myself, but I grew up christened and going to a Catholic school with nuns. My dad’s dad was a vicar, I go to church for Christmas. So religion’s been around a lot and it’s something I’ve always been interested in — particularly when you’re younger, the stories and weird costumes and singing and chanting, it’s strange.
The few friends I know that have the strongest relationship to faith have tended to be people who found it themselves a bit later in life. It makes it yours a bit more maybe. It’s more interesting to me why some people believe and some people don’t. For Maud, it’s a coping mechanism. Her life before now has felt quite lost and confused. Faith seems to hold her together.
Yes, there’s such a sense of loneliness at the centre of this movie.
AC: For both characters. When we cast Jennifer [Ehle], we kept her American accent and that idea of why is she in this British, rather rundown, coastal place. We all sorts of ideas about her backstory. We meet her at this very difficult time in her life. She’s losing her physicality in a very extreme way because of her illness and she’s cocooned away. She is bored and scared and isolated and I think she’s curious about religion as well. I think there are a few moments in the movie where she sort of almost envies Maud for having something so strong.
How did you start crafting these characters when writing the script?
RG: It was a gradual, quite messy process over several years as you’re developing it. Being an egocentric writer, you put bits of yourself into every character in different, weird ways. I like the idea that Maud and Amanda are two sides of the same coin. On the surface, they seem very different but the core issues in their life is that they’re both lonely and detached.
AC: I think the characters did change when you cast as well.
What did Jennifer bring to the character of Amanda?
RG: So much! When you’re writing it, you think you know the characters but obviously you don’t know anything until you’ve actually got someone standing in front of you. In a lot of drafts, Amanda is quite a bit older and English, but by Jennifer making her younger, American, and a lot cooler to be honest, it seemed to make more sense that Maud would become obsessed with her.
The sound design is so striking in this movie. Did you always have an idea of what you wanted it to sound like?
RG: Our sound designer Paul Davis is fantastic. He does Lynne Ramsey’s films and I got to meet him because he was being a visiting tutor at the film school I was at. Luckily he liked my short and wanted to do my film. Leading up to it, I always said that sound design would be one of the areas we could push things. The whole film is quite heightened and dynamic hopefully, but I wanted to make sure, particularly in the way that its shot, that we didn’t go too gimmicky to the point where it’s distracting from the narrative.
Where is Saint Maud headed next?
AC: London Film Festival. It’s in official competition which is super cool because they don’t usually put debut films in. We’re also going to Fantastic Fest in Austin!
Danita Steinberg is a writer and co-host of the women in film podcast We Really Like Her!