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The feature film debut of writer/director Rose Glass, 2019's Saint Maud tells the story of a young woman named Maud (Morfydd Clark) who, early in the film, starts her new job in the massive old home of Amanda Kohl (Jennifer Ehle). Once a famous dancer, Amanda now has stage 4 leukemia and Maud is to be her new live-in caregiver. Amanda has lost the use of her legs and is confined to a wheelchair.
Despite the warning from the woman she replaces about Amanda's temperament, the two initially hit it off. Maud does nothing to hide her devout religious beliefs, telling Amanda that God is always with her and that sometimes she can even feel Him inside her. Amanda plays along, amused by her new companion but not about to change her ways. Fond of drink and smoke, Amanda also entertains a gentleman caller one night, and when Maud comes home and finds her stinking drunk, she isn't particularly impressed. She's less impressed by the presence of Carol (Lily Frazer), a woman that Amanda pays to carry on an affair with her.
The more Maud learns about Amanda, the more she becomes obsessed with saving her soul, but Maud's past will come back to haunt her, even if she firmly believes that God has bigger plans for her.
Saint Maud is an interesting and unique picture, as much a character study as it is a horror movie. The film builds in tension very effectively, hinting at Maud's past before the title card hits the screen in a quick prologue of sorts before then moving along with the main narrative. The film is paced well, clocking in at just over eighty-four minutes (and that includes a few minutes' worth of end credits), but it offers up some pretty decent character development along the way. We get to know Maud through her narration at times but also through her actions and interactions with the other characters in the film. Rather than spell everything out for us as the story evolves, Glass' film drops hints that will reward attentive viewers, foreshadowing what turns out to be an unexpected but wholly appropriate ‘big finish' of sorts.
Production values are quite strong across the board. The cinematography from Ben Fordesman is generally pretty impressive. It manages to make the interiors of Amanda's ornate home feel appropriately dire and empty, more often than not a labyrinth of shadows. Maud's humble apartment is not much brighter, the camera capturing the various articles of faith on display in her small studio. This contrasts with the few sequences that take place outside, such as a scene at the seashore and a few nighttime strolls past some casinos, their exteriors light up with garish neon. Adam Janota Bzowski's score, heavy on intense bass and drone, works perfectly alongside the visuals and complements the story really well.
The acting is also very good here. Jennifer Ehle is quite believable as Amanda, her character clearly hiding her pain and her fear, still wanting to enjoy life and not quite ready to accept the inevitability of her impending demise. Lily Frazer is also good in her supporting role as are the rest of the supporting cast. Morfydd Clark is, understandably, the real star of the show, however. Her performance is committed and impressive. She can be meek, mild, humble and caring and then go from that to intense and legitimately frightening as Maud's demeanor changes while the plot unfolds. It's a legitimately great performance.
Saint Maud arrives on Region A Blu-ray from Lionsgate in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 2.39.1 widescreen taking up 19.5GBs of space on the 25GB disc. Picture quality here is very strong. Shot digitally, the image shows no damage, dirt or debris but does have noticeably more texture than typical digitally shot films tend to show. It results in a very nice looking picture with good depth and detail. The vast majority of the film is show indoors in lower lighting, Maud's crummy apartment and Amanda's big mansion being the two main locations, so the movie isn't as colorful as you might expect, but colors are reproduced accurately and this all seems in keeping with Glass' intended look of the film based on her comments in the supplements. Black levels are strong and there are no problems with any compression artifacts. There is some very minor banding in a few spots but otherwise, it's tough to complain about the picture quality here, it looks very good.
The 24-bit English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix on this disc is excellent. This isn't a film packed with super immersive set pieces but the rear channels are used effectively, and sometimes very subtly, to pull you in. The party sequence and the bar sequence both stand out in this regard, with background chatter and effects putting you in the moment. The film's score is really well placed here, the strong, bassy drones of the music having a bit of a bulldozer effect when used but never burying dialogue. Optional subtitles are offered in English and Spanish.
The main extra on the disc is a commentary track with writer/director Rose Glass. Despite some moments of dead air throughout the track, when she's talking she's quite interesting to listen to. She talks about what inspired the film, casting the picture, the locations, some of the people that she worked with on the production and some of the themes that the picture explores.
Additionally, the disc includes a twenty-five minute behind the scenes featurette called A Higher Calling: The Rapture Of Saint Maud. This is worth your time as it's quite interesting. A mix of interviews with the cast and crew, including Glass, Clark and Ehle, as well as pertinent behind the scenes footage this featurette does a good job of showing what it was like on set, exploring the characters from the film and detailing its origins and what inspired it in the first place.
Outside of that, look for trailers for a few other Lionsgate/A24 Blu-ray release, menus and chapter selection options. This release also comes packaged with a slipcover and an insert card that contains a download code for a digital HD version of the movie.
Saint Maud is absolutely worth seeking out, it's a clever, well-made and generally just impressive picture that is both thought provoking and, at times, quite chilling. The Blu-ray release from Lionsgate would have benefited from a few more extra features but more importantly than that it presents the feature with a very strong audio/video presentation. Highly recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.