Follow Saint Maud (2020) To Salvation
Title: Saint Maud
First Wide Release: October 9, 2020 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Rose Glass
Writer: Rose Glass
Runtime: 84 Minutes
Starring: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Frazer
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Maud (Morfydd Clark) is a nurse tasked with taking care of the cancer stricken former dance star Amanda (Jennifer Ehle). While Maud is devoutly religious and showcases incredible restraint from life’s pleasures, Amanda is more indulgent and believes in nothing beyond herself. As they spend more time together, they begin to form a bond. With this newfound friendship, and the intense full body feeling she gets when she does the Lord’s work, Maud believes that it is her duty to save Amanda’s soul from damnation. But Amanda proves to be stubborn to her advances. This sends Maud spinning in a never-ending spiral of risqué behavior and piety that will end in devastating results.
The finest kind of slow-burn psychological horror, Saint Maud is a chilling feature filled with unshakable imagery and deep meditations on trauma and healing.
A stunning cold opening sets the scene in an effective and mysterious way with cold bodies somewhere in a hospital with an unknown female character washing the blood off of her in a shower. From there, the next seventy minutes or so build up the lonely and disorienting world of Maud before its disturbing denouement. Maud is such a complex and interesting character. It’s clear she had a hell of a year and is looking for anything to put her life back together.
Morfydd Clark puts herself through the wringer in this film. She projects confidence, insecurity, fear, humiliation, just the widest range of human emotion in a convincing and hauntingly beautiful way. Her physicality and vocal control are impeccable and make for such a dynamic watch. Clark is helped by the immense talent of Jennifer Ehle, whose performance of Amanda is also a scene stealer. You never quite know if she is on the same page as Maud or if she is playing her, which elevates the stakes and makes the film even more engrossing.
Saint Maud is an effective tale on the impact of trauma and the horrors of loneliness disguised as a simple possession flick. Even though religion is a recurring motif in the film, it never feels like the target of the criticism. Instead, Saint Maud posits that hyper religiosity is a side effect of mental illness borne from trauma. I appreciate that director Rose Glass doesn’t give a simple answer, so it is the job of the audience to interpret the film how they see fit. To me, the post-traumatic stress disorder angle hits hardest. Turning to religion to heal from trauma is such a valid and huma experience that rarely gets discussed in a sympathetic manner in horror. Maud vacillates between savior and antagonist, which not only adds to the suspense but humanizes Maud where otherwise viewers may mock or deride her.
Beyond its nuanced plot and electric characters, Saint Maud is a technical marvel that does plenty right across the board. Saint Maud is steeped in striking visuals that stick with you long after viewing. Two sequences in particular stand out to me: Maud’s night out and the fireworks scene. A single shot of Maud stumbling down a staircase to her apartment door captured by a slanted camera encapsulates the disorientation and discomfort of Maud’s experience of the night. It’s so revealing of Maud’s character while pushing the plot along and delivering terrifying energy. A scene involving fireworks is also incredibly unnerving. The big question posed here is Maud possessed or is she experiencing a psychotic break? I can still hear the crunch of the tacks, the boom of the fireworks, and the voice of God. The sound design here is exquisite. The best part is these aren’t even the most horrific or heartbreaking moments of the film. They’re only a sample!
First and foremost, Saint Maud is a strong directorial debut that showcases everything great about indie horror. Glass has an incredible eye for crafting films, never straying from her terrifying and nuanced vision of the intersection of mental health, religion, and female sexuality. I absolutely cannot wait to see what Glass achieves next. I must confess, however, that I may have set my viewing experience of Saint Maud up for failure. I let myself build my expectations too high, and the subsequent hype was impossible to meet. Regardless, Saint Maud is an unwavering nightmare on the horrors of devotion, duty, and desolation that deserves your attention, if not your reverence.
Overall Score? 7/10