A Sensual Delusion: Rose Glass on Saint Maud

A Sensual Delusion: Rose Glass on Saint Maud

 Beauty and terror coexist in the feature debut from writer-director Rose Glass. Telling the story of a young woman’s alienation from the world as she grows closer to God, Saint Maud relishes horror you can feel, hear and see simultaneously. Ella Kemp meets the filmmaker to hear how arrogance, sensuality and Bergman all helped feed the film’s vision. 

Seldom does a debut feature come along with the dangerous, terrifying confidence of Saint Maud. It takes a woman on a mission and a woman with a laser-sharp vision to pull it off: and Rose Glass is just the person for the job. The writer-director gives us, the feeble viewer, 84 minutes inside the mind of our holy saviour. This is Maud, a young private nurse reassigned a patient in stormy Scarborough. You know she’s running away from a complicated past – but that’s the least of our worries. 

Glass relishes haptic filmmaking, letting us feel pleasure and transcendence as Maud does, making us understand pain and oblivion as does the rest of the world. A gasp of euphoria, the piercing rupture of skin as a sacrifice for Him. Forget where you might have thought the limits lie, this is body horror that bends and breaks all the rules. 

Still – Saint Maud is such a revelation because there is beauty intertwined in all this terror. Peeling back the surface, Rose Glass opens up to us about the sensuality of horror, female alienation and the claustrophobic influence of Ingmar Bergman.

Maud speaks to us directly in voiceover. This is sometimes confessional, but can also be scathing about the rest of the world. What did that bring beyond Morfydd’s physical performance?

It was always part of the script – I needed people to be right there in her head. And that was also how a lot of the humour of the character came through. It was important for her to be relatable, but judgey, because I didn’t want us to feel sorry for her the whole time. I liked that she had this side that was arrogant and judgemental. She believes she’s better than other people in some ways because of her relationship to God. 

How do you go about characterizing God? 

It’s definitely fun. In the beginning, I thought there would be a lot more God in the film. You were going to hear his voice instead of only hers, both of them in her head at the same time. But it felt a bit gimmicky, so I wanted God to be more of a physical presence. I thought that would be something that secular, non-religious people could connect to a bit more. The idea of her having this ecstatic, physical, orgasmic rapture. 


Do you think it’s more important for a viewer to see or hear horror? 

Sound plays a massive part. I always wanted the film to be very sensual, with the intention of getting the audience inside Maud’s perspective, instead of trying to empathise with and understand her decisions. Particularly in terms of her relationship with God, it was important that the audience understands it as a physical, sensual thing – not just a lofty theoretical relationship. Sound can trigger something in your head more than a picture can – it’s a balancing act. Some visual moments are also extravagant and over the top. 

Talk to me about the sexuality that flows between Maud and God, Maud and Amanda and Amanda and her girlfriend Carol. 

The film is about connection, and the danger that can happen when someone feels alienated and not connected to people or the world around them. And the danger of looking to other coping mechanisms. The reason Maud latches so strongly onto a relationship with Amanda, and the reason she thinks she’s been sent on this mission from God, boils down to her wanting friendship and feeling like she has some kind of connection with Amanda, and that Amanda seems to actually pay attention to her. And so it gets wrapped up in this delusion that it’s all God’s will. 

When Carol pops into the picture, Maud is jealous. She wants Amanda’s attention. And it gets dressed up and interpreted in different ways. It’s a human story about clumsiness and potential missed opportunities and misinterpretations when people struggle to connect. 

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My favourite quote in the film is when Maud says, “To save a soul, that’s quite something.” In much less extreme circumstances on a daily basis, I feel like it’s something we might often think: “I can save that person, I can fix that person.” My question to you, then, is would you rather save someone or be saved? 

Save someone, totally. Because if you’re the one saving somebody, then surely that means you’re the one who’s got their shit together, right? It’s how I see Maud, who is deluded in that assumption. She’s running from her own problems. But the idea of having a sense of control and gravitas to be the person to save somebody else, it’s definitely tied into your own ego and sense of self. There’s no truly selfless act. 

Which films beyond the horror genre inspired your vision for Saint Maud

I don’t consider myself a massive horror fan actually. Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion were probably two of the classic horrors that came to mind when trying to pinpoint the tone. But then Taxi Driver was a big influence, looking at how Travis Bickle sees himself in relation to the rest of the world and the unknowing humour of it all. I’m also a big Bergman fan, so I felt very inspired particularly by Persona,Through A Glass Darkly and The Silence. For the claustrophobic, sensual, dreamlike tone that we tried to conjure up in Maud, we looked to those films a lot. And then there’s The Devils by Ken Russell, which is completely bonkers and brilliant. Films like that, and Black Narcissus by Powell and Pressburger, which have a really elevated style and almost have a foot in campy melodrama – I love them. 

Saint Maud is out in select cinemas from today.

Ella Kemp (@ella_kemp) is a film critic and editor based in London. She is the Contributing Editor for READ ME and the Film Editor for the Quietus. She writes for NME, Empire, Letterboxd and more. Her favourite word is “verklempt” because it’s what she often is.

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