[Beyond Fest] Saint Maud Review: A Masterwork in Religious Psychological Horror
Morfydd Clark as Maud
Jennifer Ehle as Amanda
Lily Knight as Joy
Lily Frazer as Carol
Turlough Convery as Christian
Rosie Sansom as Ester
Marcus Hutton as Richard
Written and Directed by Rose Glass
Saint Maud Review:
Boy, oh boy, does A24 understand greatness in the horror genre. Their latest acquisition, the quiet and tiny little psychological thriller Saint Maud, finds the indie powerhouse studio partnering with another debuting writer-director to help bring Rose Glass’ story to audiences and with the current state of the world forcing us all to wait with bated breath for its release, the haunting film proves to be well-worth the wait.
Written and directed by Glass in her feature debut, Saint Maud is a chilling and boldly original vision of faith, madness, and salvation in a fallen world. Maud, a newly devout hospice nurse, becomes obsessed with saving her dying patient’s soul — but sinister forces, and her own sinful past, threaten to put an end to her holy calling.
Aside from more general stories of demonic possession, the religious horror genre has been largely absent from the film world for quite some time and Glass not only offers a fresh new take on the subgenre but also does so in roaring and truly chilling fashion. The tone of the film feels truly hypnotic and borderline fever dreamlike, with its opening shot drawing questions never answered but only hinted at and the narrative occasionally jumping around in time or away from its seemingly primary plot that keeps the affair feeling progressively compelling. This also goes such a long way in keeping the audience guessing, with the sense of dread proving to be incredibly palpable as to whether Maud is connecting with God or something more sinister or if she’s truly just losing her mind.
The writing for the film also provides a beautiful evolution to its titular subject, a broken and flawed soul doing their best to find a redemptive path after a dark past event while struggling with some subtle behavioral problems. Glass does a brilliant job of establishing Maud as a character the viewer wants to invest an emotional stake in, one in which we can cringe at some of her awkwardness while sympathize with her isolation from people and poor attempts at connecting with others while also still keeping one toe out the door out of fear of what terrible things lie ahead for her and those around her.
The fascination of Maud is further elevated thanks to the stellar lead performance from Morfydd Clark, who embraces the genuine and misguided protagonist in breathtaking fashion. So much of Clark’s performance as Maud is relegated to facial cues more than dialogue and she expertly expresses every little emotional transition with ease, from fear to awe to anger to a warm embrace of what she believes is God.
Alongside the intelligent writing, Glass demonstrates an incredibly artful directorial eye that really taps into some of the story’s deeper thematics and chilling atmosphere. Keeping areas appropriately dark to leave even the most eagle-eyed of audiences wondering just what is lurking nearby while also subtly utilizing aquatic and fiery imagery throughout, the debut director has established herself as a phenomenal talent to watch moving forward. Through some disturbing visual effects and literal jaw-dropping camerawork, Glass also skillfully captures some of the film’s most haunting and shocking moments in what feels rather unique for both the religious and body horror genres.
The film’s only real flaws lie in some of its ambiguity regarding Maud’s past, as we’re still left with a few questions as to just what happened in the events prior to the story that are never properly answered. While some ambiguity is plenty enjoyable and even more interesting than overblown or poorly-written exposition dumps, and there are plenty of dialogue and imagery teases throughout that could allow some to draw the proper conclusions, but something a little more concrete could’ve helped viewers take that extra step to dive further into the mind of the central subject.
Some unanswered questions aside, Rose Glass’ Saint Maud is a truly tense, chilling and occasionally shocking feature debut that includes some awe-inspiring and gorgeous direction from Glass as well as a stellar turn from sure-to-be-breakout-star Morfydd Clark to add up to one of the most disturbing films of the year and of A24’s library of magnificent works.