A woman, a God and the big escalation – newcomer Rose Glass delivers SAINT MAUD a directing and screenplay debut that not only impresses with its incredible sense of style, but also with the courage to go where it really hurts. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: Saint Maud (UK 2019)
After a severe blow of fate, the self-sacrificing nurse Katie (Morfydd Clark) finds support in her faith in God. A few months later she calls herself Maud and from then on works as a personal carer for seriously ill people. Her new patient Amanda (Jennifer Ehle) was once a famous dancer and choreographer. With the knowledge that she will soon die of cancer, she lives isolated in a large house on the coast. At first, Amanda is fascinated by this courteous, strictly religious woman who distracts the embittered patient from her torment. Maud, on the other hand, believes that she has received some kind of divine test in Amanda that she has to “save”. As the young woman becomes increasingly haunted by visions and messages that she believes come from God himself, fate takes its course and Maud loses more and more control over her faith and her life…
Depending on who you ask, the topic of religion inherently has a sinister connotation. For some, belief in a higher power is associated with a feeling of safety and security. If it is part of your life philosophy that everything has a reason or purpose, this can help you to process blows of fate better and faster. It is not for nothing that people often find religion in times of crisis. For others, atheists, on the other hand, belief in God is nothing more than the worship of a fantasy creature. And when you consider what wild religious fanaticism can be, it is no wonder that the debate “Religion, yes or no?” is much more heated than that of many other “taste” (or rather: questions of faith.” Religion has also always been a theme in horror cinema. In 1973, “The Exorcist,” one of the most popular genre films to date, was released in cinemas, in which a young girl is possessed by a demon and a priest sets out to save her soul. Since then, numerous related films have been released; Exorcism horror has long since become its own subgenre. Apart from that, many other horror titles touch on the topic of religion, but sometimes in a much more subtle way. The slasher cinema of the late 1970s and 1980s, for example, followed a deeply conservative moral agenda with its motifs of the ‘Final Girl’ (i.e. the pure, good girl who remains at the end) and the persecution of such “sins” as sex, drug and alcohol consumption. As a result of this, and also due to the appearance of numerous spiritual figures who appear as potential saviors in many fictional (or, as in the case of “The Conjuring”, “inspired by real events”) stories, the religious subtext has recently been predominantly positive.
Maud (Morfydd Clark) believes in God. Very, very firmly…
The debut work from director and screenwriter Rose Glass is uncompromisingly dedicated to the ugly side of religious faith; somewhere between “First Reformed”, “The Witch” and “Regression”. It’s about madness, fanaticism, dependence. Nevertheless, the story does not presuppose a fundamental demonization of the topic. The protagonist Maud, for example, once found the strength to emotionally free herself from a deep crisis through faith in God. Nevertheless, “Saint Maud” shows its protagonist as a mentally unstable personality who increasingly loses herself in her religious zeal, misinterprets events and soon finds herself in her very own world of perception. Newcomer Morfydd Clark (“David Copperfield – Once Rich and Back”) really shines in the role of Maud and gives a character who at first glance appears to be on the edge of cliché a remarkable ambiguity. Both visually and in her interactions with those around her, Maud corresponds to the stereotype of the introverted gray mouse who, apart from her faith, has little connection to modern reality. But when the film shows Maud in the second half picking up men in a bar, having no fear of contact during sex and, contrary to her previously propagated appearance, being emphatically seductive and self-confident, it becomes apparent that this woman seems to be very accomplished . Maud is a multi-faceted young woman who refuses to be pigeonholed. In the first half of the film this leads to misplaced pity, and in the second half to much more appropriate fear, as Maud gradually develops into an untamable danger to those around her.
“Nevertheless, “Saint Maud” shows its protagonist as a mentally unstable personality who increasingly loses herself in her religious zeal, misinterprets events and soon finds herself in her very own world of perception.”
And for himself, because at the latest when Maud connects the act of inflicting pain on herself with a cross that accidentally (?!) fell to the ground at that very moment, “Saint Maud” begins its gradual escalation – and illustrates in his own body, what over- and misinterpretations of supposed signs and words from God can do. But no matter how painful it may be to see Maud walking through the streets in shoes prepared with thumbtacks or deliberately burning her hand on a hot stove, the true horror develops less through the acts themselves than through Maud’s stoic implementation and endurance the same. After Rose Glass makes the effort in the first half of the film to put the caring character traits and self-sacrifice of the nurse Maud at the center of the story, the height of the fall is finally even greater when Maud, who is caringly caring for her patient Amanda, suddenly becomes one becomes a self-harming madwoman – and repeatedly raises the question of Maud’s sanity. “Saint Maud” is full of moments in which physical contact with and from God is directly illustrated or acoustically accompanied; for example, by allowing us to hear God speak or observe seemingly supernatural events that actively confront us as an audience with the question of whether Maud might not be right after all, is actually in contact with God and “Saint Maud” is therefore far from rooted in reality is a genre film. Or whether all of these events simply reflect Maud’s subjective feeling of intoxication. By the time we see the young woman clearly floating through the air in what is probably the film’s most striking scene, we can’t avoid asking the question: Is she really floating, or does she just feel as if she’s floating?
Amanda (Jennifer Ehle) and her carer Maud get along well.
But unlike the horror drama “Relic,” which works on a very similar principle and takes its audience into the dark perceptual reality of a dementia pensioner, “Saint Maud” remains a book – in the truest sense of the word – until the very last second with seven seals. Only when the end credits roll (and after one of the best film finales in recent horror film history) does everything shown so far come together into a categorizable whole, without completely revealing the cards. The film’s eponymous main character remains a mystery until the end. And their actions in the final third are a mystery. Especially given the subject matter, one can never completely avoid the suspicion that we may be dealing with events that our rational minds cannot understand. But even if “Saint Maud” only really gets down to business as the running time increases: in the slim 84 minutes of the film, nothing happens without a reason. A shocking opening scene that can easily be misinterpreted as a glimpse into the future sets an unpleasant needle prick at the very beginning, the everyday life of a nurse and her patient conjures up a lulling routine and the way in which Maud later interacts with an old companion illustrates Maud’s unstable nature State of mind whereby anything seems possible at any time. Only the fact that the character of the cancer-stricken Amanda also tends to have a more caricature-like characterization (she is strongly reminiscent of the aging prima ballerina Beth from “Black Swan” portrayed by Winona Ryder) tears “Saint Maud” apart in some people Moments from his emphasized closeness to life and exposes the scenario as sometimes constructed.
“Unlike the horror drama “Relic,” which works on a very similar principle and takes its audience into the dark perceptual reality of a demented pensioner, “Saint Maud” remains – in the truest sense of the word – a book until the very last second with seven seals.”
Especially for a feature film debut, “Saint Maud” shows a remarkable stylistic desire. With the help of her cameraman Ben Fordesman (“The End of the F***ing World”) Rose Glass arranges painting-like snapshots of the picturesque coastal town, the antiquated-looking interior in Amanda’s estate, and Maud’s spartan apartment. Furthermore, the horror in the film is not always automatically accompanied by an audiovisual announcement (in horror cinema, darkness is a well-known indication that something scary is probably about to happen). Instead, it’s those moments that don’t necessarily stand out visually that dig into the core. When Maud walks unobserved on nails, nothing in this scenario suggests that this peaceful idyll could have any barbs. But it is our knowledge of the circumstances of her blissful smile that gives us one shiver after another. Maud and her film go where it really hurts.
Conclusion: “Saint Maud” is the brilliant feature debut from director and writer Rose Glass, who manages to stir up deep sympathy for a character before that very character then gives us nightmares. The horror drama is a painful examination of religious fanaticism that hits you to the core due to its closeness to the main character. And you never forget the last seconds of the film.
“Saint Maud” is now available on DVD and Blu-ray in some European countries.