Saint Maud

After a traumatic event which is left ambiguous, Maud (Morfydd Clark, "Crawl") takes an assignment as a private carer for Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a once famed dancer/choreographer slowly dying of a degenerative disease which has robbed her of movement.  While Amanda indulges in hedonistic pastimes to feel alive, her nurse, who believes she hears the voice of God, becomes obsessed with saving her soul in “Saint Maud.”

Laura's Review: A-

The feature debut of writer/director Rose Glass has been largely touted for its horror elements, when, in fact, it is more of a psychological character study, one in which a young woman seeks to cleanse herself of her past by embracing the type of extreme religious obsession that calls for bodily mortification and frequently results in orgasm.  Although there are a number of supporting players, “Saint Maud” in its essence is a two-hander, a case of opposing personality types using each other to different ends, and Clark and Ehle create a very compelling dynamic.  Make no mistake though, the film is focused on Clark’s Maud and everything we experience we witness through her point of view, which, given Clark’s narration, is filtered through the Divine.

Glass has expertly created two very different worlds for her two main characters, both set at a shabby English seaside resort.  Maud prays fervently before a meager supper of soup in a spare, subterranean studio apartment, its jaggedly patterned wallpaper giving it an atmosphere of anxiety.  Amanda, on the other hand, lives in a large stone manse atop a  hill, a bit of Gothic splendor where we first see her propped up in a large, luxuriously appointed bed, her richly colored Art Deco wallpaper literally bursting with life.

Maud’s assertion that she ‘has no time for creative types’ because they ‘tend to be self-involved’ is immediately born out when Richard (Marcus Hutton), one of Amanda’s lovers, refers to her as Norma Desmond for watching herself on film.  And yet Amanda’s sexual escapades with both sexes don’t seem to bother Maud at all.  In fact, it seems to excite her, as does Amanda’s apparent buy-in to Maud’s evangelizing, talk of the Rapture a double entendre.   Later Amanda will appreciate the ‘wickedness’ of Amanda’s cheating at Solitaire after calling her out on it.

Glass dishes out some hints at Maud’s prior life with the introduction of Joy (Lily Knight, "Their Finest"), a woman who calls out to Maud on the street (‘Katie?!’) and whose safety we later fear for.  Then Amanda throws a huge party and turns on Maud, publicly mocking her.  Maud’s retaliation is swift and brutal, but it is what happens after she leaves that is the most terrifying.  Call it ‘The Unraveling.’

There are echoes of many great films and filmmakers in Glass’s work – Polanski’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘Repulsion,’ Stanley Kubrick, ‘The Exorcist’ and even Lars von Trier.  And yet her film never feels derivative.  She and Clark so successfully pull us inside Maud’s head that one may find oneself questioning every other human being one comes into contact with, Clark’s depiction of madness normalized with her mousey exterior.  Glass has also conjured up some unnerving visual effects, most achieved practically.  But the one that is most haunting lasts for perhaps a second, the film’s truest moment of horror internally realized amidst a public spectacle.

Robin's Review: C+

A24 is opening "Saint Maud" theatrically on 1/29/21 before its 2/12/21 debut on ePix.