The writer/director explains why she doesn't find her first feature as intense as everyone else does
It’s been a year and a half since Saint Maud premiered at TIFF 2019, but it hasn’t lost a step.
Rose Glass’s unsettling first feature – about a devout young nurse determined to save the soul of her latest palliative patient – walks a razor wire between incisive character study and full-on psychological horror. Its power is carried in the ferocious performances of Morfydd Clark and Jennifer Ehle, and in its depiction of religious ecstasy as both wonderful and terrifying for the person experiencing it.
I missed the chance to talk to Glass when she brought the film to Toronto, but we caught up over Zoom in advance of Saint Maud’s VOD debut on February 12.
“One of the things I wanted – which was sort of a fun challenge – was just to see if I was able to put the audience in her shoes, to the point where they can actually empathize with her,” Glass says of Maud’s world. “I never wanted it just to be ‘Oh, we’re just watching this weird girl doing weird stuff.’ I feel like there’s sort of an instinct for a lot of people, or in society at large, that if you see somebody behaving strangely or doing things that on the surface seem completely inexplicable, you’re like, ‘Oh, I’d never do that.’
“None of us know what we are or aren’t – or could or couldn’t – be capable of doing, given different life circumstances and unexpected events. And even the worst, most awful things that you hear about people doing, I’d imagine in pretty much every case, there’s quite a long, complicated series of events leading up to it. These things don’t happen overnight.”
Which isn’t to say Glass and her actors didn’t enjoy themselves on the set.
“I sent them quite a few mood boards and things, just so they had a bit more of a sense of the kind of tone, of the world that the whole thing’s happening in,” Glass says. “Both of them have to do and say some very silly stuff throughout it. I just wanted to make sure they [understood] there is a playfulness and a quality to the film, and you’re allowed to lean into that sometimes. They’re both phenomenally effortless and natural performances in a way. I think that balances out quite well with the more campy stuff.”
It’s weird to think of Saint Maud as a campy or silly experience, given the intensity of the finished film, but Glass is quick to torpedo any idea that the shoot was especially grim or brutal.
“Oh, it’s deeply silly,” she laughs. “All filmmaking is. It’s a phenomenal amount of work and stuff and so many different people, it’s sometimes easy to lose track. But we’re making a film. It’s not a life-or-death situation. I hope people can laugh at it. I’ve done a few interviews where I sort of keep talking about how funny I think Morfydd is… and people keep saying ‘Oh, no, I thought it was very sad.’”
Saint Maud is available on digital and on demand Friday (February 12) from Elevation Pictures. Watch the video of this conversation below.