After creating a series of effective shorts in recent years, writer/director Rose Glass’ debut feature, Saint Maud, is finally getting released stateside after being delayed a year because of you know what (the pandemic. It’s the pandemic.). The film was actually released abroad late in 2020, and it’s something of a shame it barely got a release in the United States because this eerie exploration and the madness that can result from religious fervor would have made for a particularly effective big screen experience.
Maud (Morfydd Clark, recently seen in The Personal History of David Copperfield) is a hospice nurse who had recently become a devout believer in all things Godly, a status that seemed to kick in after she was let go from her last nursing job after something scandalous (and perhaps criminal) took place. When we meet her, she’s taking care of the dying Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), an artist who seems to hate being sick more because it messes up her social life than because she’s set to expire soon. She comes to rely on Maud for both her physical well being and occasionally her spiritual health (she calls Maud her “savior” sometimes). It’s not enough for Maud to simply believe in God herself; like many zealots, she feels the need to save those around her that she deems sinful in some way. And naturally, Amanda’s mildly hedonistic ways make her Maud’s first target for saving.
Saint Maud slips in and out of Maud’s head, walking the line between reality and madness with skill and haunting visions that present themselves to Maud. There’s also a chance that actual sinister forces are at work in her mind, but it seems important to filmmaker Glass that the elements that occupy Maud’s fragile mind remain something of a mystery. Maud finds ways to prove her devotion (like driving nails through the bottoms of her shoes and walking around the city all night) but also expresses impatience with God for not making her mission clearer. When Amanda befriends Carol (Lily Frazer) online and then begins inviting her over (for money, which makes Carol’s exact role in all this fuzzy), Maud believes the relationship will hinder Amanda’s salvation and makes it very clear that Carol is not welcome, a conversation that Maud will later regret.
Saint Maud isn’t taking an anti-religious stance, but it doesn’t completely stay away from feeling like a cautionary tale either. There are only a handful of scenes that could be considered pure horror (a particularly intense one comes in the final minutes), but the film’s power comes from its haunting mood and uncertainty as to what Maud will do or say next. The story acknowledges the inherent hypocrisy of some former sinners turned religious zealots (with regards to that, something about Clark’s intense yet guilt-ridden performance reminded me of Carrie White’s mother in Carrie) but doesn’t judge Maud too harshly for most of the film. For those looking for more “fun” horror, this probably won’t be for you; Saint Maud is more an intimate, personal journey toward achieving your favorite brand of soul-crushing dread.
The film will be available on Epix beginning February 12.
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