SAINT MAUD is hauntingly beautiful
SAINT MAUD (2020)
There are many different ways horror movies can affect me. The best of them will have me paranoid and skittish for days after watching. I wasn’t expecting this review to take me weeks to write, as every time I went back to write it I felt very uncomfy revisiting the movie in my head. I think that’s good... That’s good right?
Since I was a little girl, I’ve always found the psychology of religion extremely eerie. My godmother always told me “you’ll feel him, one day.” She’d go on to explain the rush of God’s presence entering her soul for the first time when someone close to her passed away and she called out to him, not expecting any sort of response. I remember thinking “okay, lady, sure” and to this day I've never felt anything of the sort. However, after watching Saint Maud, I’m good if I never do. Saint Maud is a story of a spiritual awakening gone slightly awry.
As the directorial debut for Rose Glass, we embark on a righteous journey through the eyes and prayers of Maud. What I appreciate the most about this film is the director’s ability to curate unsettling scene after unsettling scene without having to rely on any typical horror cliches. The horror isn’t anything that we can see, it’s what she can. The whole movie shows Maud walking around with a purpose, but we really don’t know what that purpose is until she acts on it.
But to say this film is creepy is a total understatement. Saint Maud does what so many other films before it have merely grazed. Being from A24, it sits right up there with Hereditary and The VVitch in terms of showcasing psychological horror that sits beneath the surface. These three films may be the modern trifecta of horror for me. What makes this film stand out from other Catholic centric horrors like The Omen and The Exorcist is that it’s in the perspective of the presumed possessed. We can’t trust the point of view because we aren’t sure what’s real and what isn’t. Another film I thought of while watching this was MOTHER! for its religious theming and greatly unsettling direction. It certainly says a lot if an unknown director (to me, at least) has come out with such a brilliant piece as her feature debut that brings to mind the likes of Aster, Eggers, and Artofsky. Let alone the fact that Saint Maud comes from the mind of a female writer/director. My only fear is that people will see this film and accuse it of being a knock off of any of these films, when in reality, it’s truly an original psychological horror story of its own.
Maud is a lonesome and shy home health nurse who has recently found God in Catholicism after a traumatic experience with a past patient. Her new job is caring for a wealthy woman named Amanda who is dying of cancer. Maud becomes increasingly aware of her relationship with “God” while reaching an obsession with trying to get Amanda and trying to get her to believe before she passes.
Without saying too much else, this story is fantastic. There is so much to it even though it plays out very plainly, which is not a bad thing I might add. As much as it is horror, it’s a very much an emotional and captivating drama. I’d also like to add that it was very refreshing to watch a film like this that didn’t set up subverted expectations. It just does its own thing beautifully.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Maud is an incredible character study and arc, while making you second guess everything about her at all times. Morfyyd Clark has scarred me for life with this performance. It is truly one of the scariest I have seen this year, and it’s been months since I first watched this. Jennifer Ehle is a superb screen partner who radiates the uncertainties about Amanda that Maud feels on screen. They have an organic bond as two women tied together in this tragic circumstance but are complete polar opposites. The dynamic of this growing bond ties deeply into the mechanics of Maud’s motivations to not only save Amanda but also be the only person in her life. Two things that Maud claims go hand in hand religion-wise, but I think it’s pretty clear what feelings she’s suppressing. With that being said, both of these actresses killed it but I hope they came out of these performances emotionally and physically unscathed.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
This indie flick is a master class in showing us things that we don’t actually see on screen. This is not a movie about scary monsters coming for you lurking around corners. It’s about religious spirits and what they can do to the soul. Some of the ways those spirits manifest in Maud’s psyche can be utterly terrifying. However, this isn’t your run of the mill jump scare cash grab either. This is a film that relies on good production design of its dulled 70s retro vibe making it feel vintage. The lighting is rarely ever super dark or super light, but an overall grey tone. It’s all about Maud’s depressing perspective. There’s an incredible amount of tense visual setup with subdued but satisfying payoffs.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
This score is perfect in that it is always building, but not in the way we are used to. It’s really effective in creating this incredibly heavy atmosphere by keeping us alarmed and focused. The movie isn’t always trying to necessarily show you something, but it’s always trying to tell you something. There’s moments of sound design that tell you how you need to feel about a scene even more effectively than the visual ever could. Thats a big ole chef’s kiss for me.
I don’t just hope for this film to put Rose Glass on the map, I highly expect it. I honestly can’t wait to see what else she has in store. Saint Maud is hauntingly beautiful, and not even saying that in a corny way. It stuck with me for days that turned into weeks. I kept churning it over in my mind, slowly picking up on its subtleties while remaining immersed in its atmosphere. I absolutely can’t wait to watch it again, but after revisiting the trailers to jog my memory, I’m still terrified to even try.