Arguably, one of the most anticipated horror films of 2020 was Rose Glass’s feature debut, SAINT MAUD. And, due to COVID-19’s development, many horror fans had to watch in dismay as the film was rescheduled and then pulled indefinitely from A24’s release list. With no answers as to when the film would be released, many were left in anguish. Now, horror fans will rejoice as SAINT MAUD finally gets its theatrical release. But, was the wait worth it? This reviewer thinks so and can honestly say that Glass has set a high bar for their feature debut.
After a traumatic experience at her previous job, young woman Katie has rechristened herself as Maud (Morfydd Clark) and has taken on a role in hospice home care. The audience doesn’t truly receive an answer for what specifically happened, but Glass teases through well-timed cuts and explorations within the mind of this tightly wound woman. While she now seeks to live her life entirely for God, there is an inherent darkness within Maud that threatens to bubble over at any point. The audience sees little glimpses of this while she works under once-celebrated dancer Amanda Köhl (Jennifer Ehle), as Maud finds that she must do what she can to turn the atheist patient towards God before she dies.
However, both women are trying to teach each other how to live. Amanda wants Maud to live less restrictively and to go out and live life to the fullest. Both agendas work counter to one another, with everything coming to a head at a party held in Amanda’s honor. When it is revealed that Amanda had been merely humoring her young hospice caretaker, Maud commits a violent act that starts a downward spiral and a fight for the human soul. Whether it’s Amanda’s soul or Maud’s that needs saving, well, you’ll just have to watch the film.
There’s a deep undergrowth of anxiety and sensuality interwoven through SAINT MAUD. Maud so much wants to believe in her connection with God that we see how her mind transcends past reason. Overcome with displays of seemingly orgasmic rapture when she “connects”, it’s difficult not to believe with her. However, for those with a religious background, there are numerous instances throughout the film itself that belie the woman’s religious nature. There’s a cherry-picking of religious aspects that the seemingly pious woman takes on as she tries to forge a more righteous path, one that takes her away from her former hedonist life. It’s this internal struggle, though, that will ultimately serve the woman’s downfall as her need for righteousness and salvation twists into something far more mad.
The most significant example of this is Maud’s relationship with her patient, Amanda. Amanda serves as a mirror for Maud, with the former’s life being one of excess and – in Maud’s eyes – immodesty and sin. The two battle with one another in subtle and non-subtle ways, serving to highlight a more external example of the young woman’s inner turmoil. By trying to save Amanda’s soul, perhaps, it becomes a projection of inadvertently saving herself from her own sins and the lingering traumas that have clung to her. There is much food for thought in Glass’s SAINT MAUD and this is one of many discussions that the film itself might generate upon wider release.
While the screenplay carries itself, what really helps the material transcend are the performances. In particular, from Morfydd Clark and Jennifer Ehle. Clark embodies all the various nuances of Maud’s personality. She embodies the desire to be free from loneliness through the sweet comfort of God and its love. On the flip side, we can see through tiny movements in her muscles and just a gaze the internal turmoil that grips onto Maud’s soul. Ehle has this magnetic energy onscreen as Amanda, capturing the essence of a dancer who still has a fire even as she battles her impending death. Both actors are incredible scene partners, each munching onto their dialogue with aplomb. And so natural are their performances that it’s difficult not to ache as we watch both succumb to various influences outside of their control.
The usage of shadows to highlight the darkness that encroaches on Maud’s mind reminds the viewer of what weighs on the woman’s mind. The usage of light, in general, in the film and various events (funnel-like whirlwinds in drinks and in the clouds) that only Maud can see provide a necessary visual window. The beautiful rendering of wings on Maud’s back glow brightly, which provides a clear contrast against the darkness that had chased her for so long. Little decisions like these help craft a guessing game tale for the viewer as to Maud’s internal state. Is she truly sought out by God? Is the Devil truly plaguing her? Or has madness taken hold?
While SAINT MAUD has been creating buzz in festivals for some time, this reviewer does want to caution horror fans before diving right in. The horror represented in the film is psychological in nature as we dive into the mind of Maud. For some, this film may not be “horror” enough. Yet, darkness follows the lead. The reminder of Hell and damnation follows her like a shadow, impacting her every move and decision as she tries to reconcile with her inner turmoil whilst being seen as more than she is. And the last impact of the final 30 seconds of SAINT MAUD will haunt the mind long after the credits are done rolling.
A24 will be doing a limited theatrical release of SAINT MAUD on January 29. The film will then be released On-Demand via Epix on February 12.
Disclaimer/Editor’s Note: Nightmarish Conjurings doesn’t endorse seeing movies in theaters at this time due to the pandemic. Please consider VOD and/or Drive-In options and, if you go to the theater, please be safe.