Production company A24 continues its streak of putting out unforgettable horror movie bangers with the recent debut of Saint Maud. Following an extensive pandemic delay, up and coming writer/director Rose Glass and up and coming actress Morfydd Clark present this quietly unsettling descent into madness that, like so many A24 greats, lingers long after watching it.
Saint Maud tracks lead character Maud (Morfydd Clark) who, after a traumatizing breakdown from her past, has recently taken up an extreme devotion to christianity. Tasked with taking hospice care of terminally ill retired dancer Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), Maud becomes enamored with the notion that her soul purpose in life is to help Amanda find God before she passes.
Maud starts out as a character driven study of lust and infatuation through the eyes of its main subject. There’s a curious innocence to Maud as she emerges from solitude to form a deep bond with her new patient Amanda by way of imparting her love of God onto her. The problem? Amanda’s only link to anything resembling spirituality throughout her life has been through her body, losing herself in dance and living life as a free spirit. Now that she’s reached her final days, Amanda chooses to spend them indulging in sin rather than in Maud’s invitation to a devotion to God. And this is where the crazy starts.
Maud can certainly be viewed as a criticism of uber religious devotion, but it never turns overly preachy or overt in that regard. Instead, it’s a peak into the psychology of someone suffering from mental illness as they use religion to establishing a sense of stability to their life. But this allegiance to God is only a bandaid for Maud’s insanity, and when she doesn’t find compliance through imparting her puritanical practice onto Amanda, the mental cracks start spreading. Much like 2019’s Joker, Maud explores a tragic descent into madness that could have been avoided with human compassion. Unlike Joker however, Maud doesn’t act as a cautionary tale or provide a clear cut path or version of a more compassionate world that could have helped avoid the impending detonation. Rather, it’s a display of manic delusions exasperated by a strict faith in structured religion. And this is the movie’s linchpin for leaning hard into horror.
Glass implements an effective blend of sound and visuals that adds a real harshness to Maud’s plunge from sanity. As her balanced regimen untangles, an unrelenting noise, almost like drops down an empty drain, grow heavier while Maud loses her grip on reality. A continual burst of colors outside Maud’s viewpoint – particularly in one stunning scene involving an eruption of fireworks – infect’s the screen to convey the seeping chaos within. Although the initial half of the movie opts for exploring a simmering tension rather than full-blown horror, the final stretch makes up for it in a big bad way by standing toe to toe with even The Exorcist when it comes to horrific religious imagery. The fact that Saint Maud intrenches you in a character driven storyline before taking a turn for the terrifying works to make that jarring shift feel all the more frightening when it finally does happen.
Saint Maud is currently available to stream for free on Amazon Prime. Check it out if you didn’t quite get your fill of demonic puking scenes from The Exorcist, want to witness one of the most aggressive hand jobs ever put on screen or have an interest in seeing the holy spirit provide some serious orgasmic ecstasy.