Film reviews: Saint Maud | Kajillionaire | Scream, Queen! | My Zoe | Beyond the Visible

Saint Maud is both a nuanced character study of a nurse losing her grip on reality and a scary arthouse horror, writes Alistair Harkness, while Miranda July has made her most accessible film yet in Kajillionaire

Thursday, 8th October 2020, 2:44 pm
Saint Maud
Saint Maud

Saint Maud (15) ****

Kajillionaire (12A) ****

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Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street (N/A) ****

My Zoe (12A) ***

Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint (U) **

British writer/director Rose Glass makes a striking debut with Saint Maud, a creepy arthouse horror movie about a devout palliative care nurse called Maud (Morfydd Clark) who becomes obsessed with saving the soul of her latest charge. This is Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a once-famous dancer who’s gone a bit “Norma Desmond” as she lives out her final days in the decadent seclusion of a big hilltop house high above an unnamed British seaside town. Maud, by contrast, has more in common with one of Paul Schrader’s misguided avenging angels, her sardonic voiceover narration repeatedly questioning the value of her religious calling in a one-way conversation with God that sees her continually contrast her piety with the drabness of her current locale and the consequence-free sinning she sees happening all around her. That her delusions manifest themselves in orgasmic reveries and flesh-mortifying acts of self-harm hint at a pre-conversion past full of personal and professional trauma and one of the film’s great strengths is the subtle way Glass fuses genre elements with nuanced character work to maintain an air of ambiguity about the extent of Maud’s unravelling, something that pays huge dividends come the film’s harrowing finalé. She demonstrates real mastery of tone as well, never descending into camp, even as Maud’s relationship with Amanda veers from mordantly funny to chilling; judicious use of jump scares and special effects, meanwhile, further ratchet up the tension. At just 83 minutes, this a tightly wound gem.

As a filmmaker, Miranda July’s work defies easy categorisation, falling somewhere between performance art and the kind of idiosyncratic quirkiness typified by her contemporary, Wes Anderson. This can give her output a bit of a Marmite quality, but with Kajillionaire she’s made her most accessible and entertaining film to date. A surreal crime caper built around a family of inept grifters, it stars Evan Rachel Wood (TV’s West World) as Old Dolio, the 26-year-old daughter of an erratic couple (Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger) whose decision to name her after a homeless lottery winner in the vain hope of sharing his good fortune is just one of many bogus parenting decisions that Old Dolio is starting to suspect may be the reason she feels so emotionally stunted as an adult. Her increasing sense of alienation from her wacko parents is intensified by the jealousy – and perhaps something else – she feels towards Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), an aspiring scam artist her parents have invited into their world after she comes up with a ruse to help them pay their rent arrears. July keeps things marvellously off-kilter here with plenty of oddball details, but these never compromise the compassion the film has for its characters, whose errant ways are, happily, not entirely irredeemable.

Though it’s been reclaimed in recent years as a queer horror classic, the formerly little-loved A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge turns out to have been something of a cross to bear for its star Mark Patton, a young gay actor whose career it ruined just as it was getting going in the mid-1980s. Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street tells his story and it’s a fascinating one full of thwarted promise, tragedy, and, latterly, hope. Following Patton on the convention circuit in the run up to the film’s 30th anniversary, directors Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen build towards a confrontation between their subject and the film’s screenwriter, David Chaskin, whom Patton blames for his becoming the focal point of all the homophobic ire the film incurred. But they also broaden the scope to examine the way the emerging Aids crisis forced gay actors back into the closet just as the culture seemed to be opening up. It’s an absorbing look at an important time – and as horror’s first “Final Boy,” Patton emerges as a true survivor.

My Zoe, Julie Delpy’s latest film as writer, director and star sees the co-author of Richard Linklater’s Before… trilogy put a more sombre take on the precarious nature of relationships. Casting herself as one half of a newly separated couple embroiled in a bitter custody battle for their young daughter (Richard Armitage plays her ex; Sophia Ally their eponymous daughter), the film dramatises with almost too-tough-to-watch accuracy the point-scoring recriminations that can destroy any hope for civility in such cases – and that’s before the film takes a turn for the tragic that only intensifies the protagonists’ mutual fury. But just when the drama seems too much to take, Delpy veers into unexpected, sci-fi- inflected territory and slyly refocuses our attention on the importance of remembering what matters in life. Daniel Brühl and Gemma Arterton co-star.

Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint seeks to rewrite art history to ensure the pioneering Swedish abstract painter is given her due in a male-dominated field. Doing the bulk of her work in the early 20th century, af Kilnt’s obsession with the atomic make-up of the world led her to try and represent it in ways that had never been done before, resulting in formal breakthroughs that prefigured those of Kandinsky and Mondrian. Sadly, we learn this in the first ten minutes and what follows is a pretty tedious primer that fixates on her status as a marginalised woman to offset the frustrating lack of insight into her work. ■

Saint Maud and Kajillionaire are on general release; Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street is screening as part of the Scottish Queer International Film Festival 2020 and can be streamed on demand until 18 October via sqiff.org; My Zoe is available on demand; Beyond the Visible: Hilma af Klint is on select release and stream on demand

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