Saint Maud was one of a number of movies delayed earlier this year, but for the outstanding debut by writer-director Rose Glass, it could have worked out in the movie's favour.
Originally set for an early May release, the horror movie now lands on October 9 in time for Halloween and with little other genre competition around. Horror fans have been starved for big screen chills this year and Saint Maud could prove to be a blessing for them.
The haunting tale centres on devout live-in nurse Maud (Morfydd Clark, soon to be seen in Amazon's Lord of the Rings series), who used to work in the NHS before something happened, as hinted at in a striking opening.
Maud's new client is glamorous and sharp-witted former dancer Amanda (Jennifer Ehle) who is living with a terminal illness. Bored with her new lot in life, Amanda is determined to have fun while she can and aims to break Maud out of her reserved shell.
However, the more fixated Maud gets with Amanda, the more convinced she becomes that her personal mission is to save Amanda's soul before she passes.
Saint Maud might not be an all-out scarefest, but it's the kind of horror that seeps into your consciousness and remains there, whether you want it to or not.
Glass has crafted a creepy slow-burn that's punctuated with short and effective jump scares, including a gruesome CPR jump cut that'll will have you involuntarily clutching your chest. (It's only topped by a moment that involves Maud, her shoes and some nails, that'll have even hardened horror hounds wincing.)
The ominous score from Adam Janota Bzowski and terrific sound editing, including the skin-prickling messages from 'God' Maud hears, ensure nothing ever feels quite right. You'll be glad it's just over 80 minutes long, as it's truly unsettling throughout.
What makes the creepiness all the more effective is that Saint Maud is often genuinely funny. We're not talking sitcom laughs here, but darkly grim humour that stems from Maud and Amanda's relationship, as well as Maud herself who proves just as sharp-witted as Amanda.
For all its horror edges, Saint Maud is a character study at its heart and key to its success is the tremendous central performance of Morfydd Clark, up there with the best of the year to date.
It would be easy for Maud to become a delusional figure of fun, but Clark ensures that she remains a very human character. Maud remains someone to empathise with, and an outsider that you can relate to, no matter how dark things get (and boy, do they get dark).
Horror fans bemoan the lack of awards recognition for performances in horrors of late, and Clark's is up there with Toni Collette in Hereditary, and Lupita Nyong'o in Us – it's that good. Even if it doesn't lead to awards, it's a formidable calling card for Clark after impressing in supporting roles in the likes of Dracula, and His Dark Materials.
That's not to take away from Ehle who is excellent also as Amanda and proves a worthy sparring partner, but Saint Maud is very much Clark's show.
Even if Saint Maud didn't manage to stick the landing, it'd still be an impressive debut for Rose Glass, and one of the best horrors of the year. However, the movie ends up delivering an unforgettable finale with a climactic shot that will haunt your nightmares, cementing it as of of the best movies of 2020.
For the most part, Glass revels in the ambiguity of Maud's situation as her visions get stronger, with Clark's grounded performance making you believe that it could all be real. The finale makes a definitive point on everything that's happened in the movie though, and it will shake you to your core.
You might think we're being hyperbolic, but just you wait. Get ready to say your prayers because Saint Maud is coming.
Saint Maud is released in UK cinemas on October 9, following MASSIVE Cinema previews on October 6.
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