Film Review: Saint Maud

Writer-director Rose Glass’ Saint Maud is a unnerving and intense gothic thriller. The filmmaker has delivered an atmospheric and striking debut.

Maud, a private nurse, is sent on an assignment to care for a terminally ill woman. Maud is a pious young woman, and becomes preoccupied with saving her patient’s soul…

Saint Maud concentrates primarily on a nurse and her relationship with a terminally ill patient. The backdrop provides the perfect setting for this exploration of psyche, religious fervour, and obsession. 

The focus on Maud alone is a wise move from Rose Glass. Every sequence features the protagonist; the other characters do not exist outside of Maud’s line of sight. That is not to say we see things from her point of view; more often than not the viewer sees Maud as she looks at these characters. Glass situates the viewer observing Maud as she observes others. 

The opening sequence is striking, and functions effectively at pulling viewers in. There is an unnerving feeling throughout, which is intesified by Glass’ choice of shot and the highly effective sound design. The setting also brings forward a sense of isolation and hopelessness. 

The study of Maud is a gradual one. Glass reveals a little more about the protagonist as the narrative progresses. She is a fascinating character; one that becomes increasingly disturbed in the second half of Saint Maud. The themes of obsession and mania are explored in an interesting fashion. Glass wisely eschews providing rationale for the irrational. 

Morfydd Clark delivers a brilliant central performance. Her intensity is perfect for the role of Maud. Jennifer Ehle is also great as Amanda. Saint Maud is a memorable feature debut from Rose Glass. Looking forward to see what the filmmaker does next. 

Saint Maud is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival on October 2019.

Film Review: A Quiet Passion

A Quiet Passion

Terence Davies’ Emily Dickinson biopic is witty and beautifully shot. A Quiet Passion is a sincere portrait of the poet.

Young Emily Dickinson’s views are at odds with the teachings of her religious school. As she grows up, her love of writing poetry grows, as does her reluctance to confirm to the social mores of the period…

Writer-director Terence Davies delivers a thoughtful period drama in his depiction of the life of Emily Dickinson. A Quiet Passion is beautifully composed, from the exquisite camera work and art direction, to a pleasing script. Davies admiration for his subject matter shine through.

The film begins on Emily as a teenage girl, leaving her school to return to the family home. It then jumps forward to her life as an adult. Davies litters the film with Dickinson’s poetry, relating her words to different occasions in her life. It is a lovely way to tell her story, whilst reminding viewers of the beauty of her poetry. The script is absolutely fantastic. The film sparkles with wit, and the language is expressive throughout.

The first half of A Quiet Passion is stronger than the second half. This section features the fizz of the dialogue, which will frequently have viewers laughing. The second half of the film is bleaker, lacking some of the enjoyment of the first. Although the conveys the change in outlook and the life events of the protagonist, this part of the film feels rather leaden.

Davies beautifully films A Quiet Passion. There are many nice touches, such as the panning shots. The ageing portraits in particular are wonderful to see. The costumes and sets are also great. The score is almost as beautiful as the visuals. Cynthia Nixon delivers a convincing performance as Dickinson. She captures a progressive sense of pessimism which feels most authentic. Jennifer Ehle is also great, as is Catherine Bailey. Keith Carradine’s straight faced delivery also works well.

A Quiet Passion is a lovingly crafted portrait of Emily Dickinson, for the most part doing the beauty of her words justice.

Film Review: Contagion

Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion is a disturbingly plausible experiment. The film is successful because it is able to sustain a sense of tension throughout.

A woman returns from Hong Kong via Chicago feeling ill with flu-like symptoms. A man collapses on a bus in Tokyo, and a young model is found dead in her London hotel. These three and other people are displaying similar symptoms of a deadly illness that is spreading throughout the world. The CDC sends doctors across the globe to try and contain the outbreak…

Contagion is very timely in its release. After the various outbreaks in the last few years, Soderbergh’s film explores the potential outcomes if such an illness did spread globally. Although people have died from outbreaks such as swine flu, these have been contained to certain areas and casualties have been relatively low in number. What Contagion does is amplify fears of the worse case scenarios in these type of cases.

The film takes place in various different locations, reflecting just how global a crisis it is. The different stories work well overall, with writer Scott Z. Burns attempting to exhibit different aspects to such an outbreak. Contagion works on the personal civilian level, with stories such as Mitch and his family, as well as on a wide scale, focusing on one of the CDC’s main players. Some of these strands are given more depth and duration than others, which is a necessary format. All the stories appear realistic, even the blogger’s strand is plausible given the freedom and power of the internet.

The tone of Contagion is almost unrelentingly serious. This is necessary in order to sustain tension. There are a couple of moments in the film which are rather soppy, but Contagion delivers a stark atmosphere more generally. There are moments in the film which are chilling; the automated telephone options being the most memorable of these.

Contagion boasts an excellent cast, and performances are solid for the most part. Laurence Fishburne is well cast as Dr Cheever, while Matt Damon is believable as Mitch. Jude Law is rather hammy as blogger Alan, but others such as Marion Cotillard and Jennifer Ehle deliver strong performances.

With the themes of the film being matched by the sober palette, Soderbergh’s film has a distinctive feel. Contagion is a very competent film, even if it is likely to bring out Howard Hughes tendencies in viewers.