Rose Glass on the ecstasy & agony of her new horror film Saint Maud

“I didn’t really see it as a possession film, although you could definitely argue that God is in her.”

The first time I was supposed to speak to Rose Glass about her debut film Saint Maud, it was Sept. 2019 and the film was playing at the Toronto International Film Festival. A schedule conflict came up on my end, and I was told that there would be time to speak to Glass before the film’s Quebec release a few months later. The second time I was supposed to speak to Rose Glass was in mid-March of 2020; the film was scheduled to be released in the first week of April, but the press screening was cancelled for reasons that we all know. The time I finally got to speak to Rose Glass (via Zoom, of course) was in early Feb. 2021 — nearly a year-and-a-half after our first missed encounter. Filmmakers are used to talking about their films for a long time — the post-production, festival run and eventual release of a film can last years after production — but the pandemic has really stretched things out for Saint Maud.

“It’s mad,” says Glass. “It certainly feels like a lifetime, what with the double whammy of global stuff as well. (…) I can’t say that I’m tired, because I’m in a position where I get to talk about my fucking movie. (laughs) It’s amazing because it means I got to make a movie and it went well, which is a great position to be in. But, yes, if I’m honest… not that I’m sick of it, but I am relieved that it is finally coming out. It’s been such a strange year. But if anything, it means I’m a hell of a lot more relaxed about it all now. I got a little taste of having to do all of this junket-y press stuff before the release last year, and I was fairly terrified and sort of dreading the whole thing then. There have been so many sorts of stops and starts that now I’m glad it’s going to be there. It is for an audience and they are going to see it!”

Maud (Morfydd Clark) is a nurse living in a decrepit seaside resort town some time after a traumatic event in which she was unable to save a patient in her care. Evidently shaken from the event, she now leads an extremely pious life, living in a barebones studio apartment and working as a personal nurse for Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), an American dancer who is dying of lymphoma. Acerbic and thoroughly bitter at the prospect of death, the atheistic Amanda couldn’t be more different from Maud — which is probably what prompts her to decide to save Amanda’s soul. Amanda, however, has no such plans for herself, which sends Maud into a tailspin of uncontrollable religious fervour. (Read my Saint Maud review here.)

Saint Maud deals with issues of religious hysteria and a crisis of faith that turns quasi-supernatural. Though some are quick to call it a horror movie, it’s really much more about the idea of losing control of one’s faith. As someone who is south of atheistic on the spectrum of religiosity, I nevertheless found Maud’s journey relatable to some extent.

Rose Glass Saint Maud
Rose Glass with Jennifer Ehle and Morfydd Clark in Saint Maud

“It’s definitely something that I was aware of,” says Glass. “For me the whole challenge of the thing and what I was trying to do was get the audience to understand and empathize with what she does and why. In spite of, on the surface, her doing stuff that seems completely morally reprehensible or inexplicable, I wanted to see if I could get most people to realize that she was motivated by pretty universal stuff. It doesn’t happen overnight. Nobody is inherently bad or evil, or however you want to put it. Most people watching it are probably not religious. I was raised fairly Christian so it’s all very familiar to me, but I’m not religious myself and so I wanted to find a way that non-believers could get on board with what she’s getting out of her relationship with God. That led to things like… except for one scene where you hear her speak to God, it’s quite a physical sensation that are these weird orgasmic sort of seizure-y (episodes). Those arose from a combination of things, but I think primarily it was that so her relationship with God would have this tangible feeling. 

“I didn’t want it to be this sort of lofty, abstract grappling with faith in an intellectual kind of way,” she continues. “I wanted the whole thing to feel more physical and instinctual. Even if you don’t believe in God, you can get on board with the idea of ecstasy being… good, (laughs)  and wanting to transcend ourselves in some way or connect to something bigger. Even just the fact that throughout the film you realize that, outside of her relationship with God, her life is quite sad and empty and she’s got lots of things to contend with. You can see that her faith has nothing to do with organized religion, really. She creates her own warped, weird version of religion by taking bits here and there. It’s more of a sort of self-help at that point.”

Most religious or religion-adjacent horror films hang much of their thematic concerns on possession, a convenient narrative tool since it doesn’t even need to be justified. A demon picks someone and that’s that. I brought up the idea that Glass has made the rare genre film about religion that isn’t about possession.

“I didn’t really see it as a possession film, although you could definitely argue that God is in her, and that part makes sense,” says Glass. “The whole thing of it being either the Devil or God, I don’t really think about it that way, but it’s there. The Devil or God, it’s a name that we’ve given to things that arise within all people. We all have these things in us.” ■

Saint Maud is available on VOD on Friday, Feb. 12. For more about the film, please visit its IMDB page. Watch the trailer below:

Saint Maud by Rose Glass

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