A body-horror instant classic, still not available to U.S. audiences
A cheap jump scare possession horror clone this is not. Saint Maud, which released in the U.K. last month but remains in lockdown in the U.S. market, instead invites us into the sad, lonely life of a young woman who believes God put her on this earth for a higher purpose.
SAINT MAUD ★★★★(4/5 stars)
Directed by: Rose Glass
Written by: Rose Glass
Starring: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Knight
Running time: 84 min
Maud (Morfydd Clark) arrives on the scene of a new palliative home care assignment after a cold open provides a brief glimpse of a bloody nursing mishap from her past. She’ll care for a relatively famous dancer named Amanda (Jennifer Ehle) who has stage 4 lymphoma. Despite a warning from a previous nurse about Amanda’s difficulty, the two get along famously. They get along so well that Maud begins to think God intends for Maud to save Amanda’s soul. Ok, rewind.
Maud seems a born-again Christian, but she’s hiding something about her identity, and there’s something strange about her connection to God. She experiences orgasmic rushes whenever she feels she’s made progress on Amanda’s salvation, and she observes extreme self-harm penance when she feels she’s made a fool of herself. Amanda and Maud eventually have a falling out, which leaves Maud devastated, begging for direction from God. But is it really God guiding her on such an extreme path?
Saint Maud is like a subsumed, sadistic film adaptation of Jewel’s song “Who Will Save Your Soul”? I know that sounds insufferable, but that’s the point. The ideas Maud clings to seem so sappy and archaic, almost annoying, but the film doesn’t pass judgment. This compelling push and pull between potential enlightenment and delusion, who’s right or wrong, arrives at a time of great contentiousness, after all.
This isn’t necessarily about religion, but instead a dark plunge into the collision of a person’s inner truth with the world’s perception of that person. Is little Ms. Devout what she seems to be, or is something bubbling under the surface? (One of the opening shots of the film focuses on the popping bubbles of hot tomato soup.)
The depiction of self-imposed alienation justified as misunderstood righteousness by someone trying to understand their place in some grand scheme paints a troubling picture of loneliness. A breakout performance by Clark, who wastes no moment nor motion in selling us on this poor creature, makes it all just heartbreaking. From time to time when Maud’s façade briefly drops, there are flashes of a fire Clark will surely bring to future roles.
At the end of the day, this is still a horror film and first-time feature director Rose Glass delivers a body-horror instant classic that revels more in mood than lesions and vomit. Glass demonstrates that she’s in control in a way that ensures the audience remains on edge. It’s a crucial talent when telling such a claustrophobic story, and she adds this to patience and empathy that will serve her well if she chooses to continue working in the horror genre.
In an interview with Fangoria back in April, Glass mentioned part of her inspiration for Saint Maud was pondering what a person’s life must be like before they end up on the evening news. We’ll be blessed if Glass continues bringing that type of curiosity to the genre.