Monday, June 13, 2022

#2,768. Saint Maud (2019) - 2021 Horror Movies


Psychological horror can, at times, be a frustrating experience for the viewer. Are the events playing out in front of us real, or are they the figment of a character’s imagination? With Saint Maud, writer / director Rose Glass makes such questions a moot point; whether what we’re seeing is genuine or not, the time we spend in the company of its lead character is enough to shake us to our very core.

Hospice nurse Maud (Morfydd Clark), a recent convert to Christianity who is convinced God communicates with her directly, becomes the live-in caretaker for Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a former dancer who is dying.

The two women eventually strike up a friendship, but when Maud takes it upon herself to save Amanda’s eternal soul, it causes a rift between the two. Is Maud actually doing the Lord’s work, or have the traumas of her own past caused her mind to splinter, warping her perceptions of right and wrong, fantasy and reality?

Despite it being her first film, director Rose Glass shows a steady hand behind the camera, infusing Saint Maud with style and atmosphere to spare; utilizing sharp angles and upside-down images, Glass takes us inside her lead character’s damaged psyche, and it is every bit as disturbing a trip as you’d imagine. Clark delivers a tremendous performance as the pious Maud, a woman whose “prayers” cause the power of God to surge through her (her response to which is borderline orgasmic), and whose penchant for self-flagellation results in some of the film’s most uncomfortable scenes (at one point, Maud lines the inside of her shoes with nails and walks around town, in extreme pain).

There are hints scattered throughout the film, both with the opening scene and Maud’s eventual run-in with former colleague Joy (Lily Knight), that something traumatic happened to Maud during her previous position as a hospital nurse, and while we never learn what actually occurred, it clearly had a profound effect on her life, and was more than likely at the root of her newfound faith. It’s to Clark’s (and, of course, Glass’s) credit that we pity Maud as much as we fear her, and even when her actions cross the line (which they do on a number of occasions), we never lose our connection to her.

Jennifer Ehle is equally amazing as the dying Amanda, who is affectionate one minute, cruel the next, and the scenes in which she and Maud are discussing life and religion give the movie it’s center, as well as its key conflict. In addition, there are moments scattered throughout the movie (especially towards the end) that have us wondering if Maud does, indeed, communicate with the almighty, all leading to a final 15 minutes that are positively terrifying.

As mentioned, Saint Maud was Rose Glass’s feature film debut (as both writer and director), and based on what she accomplished here, I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!
Rating: 9 out of 10

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