Saint Maud is about a recently devout nurse who has left her hospital job after a terrible accident. She's gotten work as a private care nurse for a hospice patient. While she, Maud, cares for her patient, Amanda, Maud gently attempts to proselytize to Amanda and get her to see God's love before dying. Though, something is off about all of this, something about how Maud views her relationship to the divine and her purpose in the world. This perversion of faith swells to a horrific climax. The film stars Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Frazer, Lily Knight, Noa Bodner, Marcus Hutton, and Turlough Convery. The film is written and directed by Rose Glass. The film had a limited theatrical run in February 2021 here in the U.S. and may still be playing in a theater somewhere, but is available for streaming via an Amazon Prime, Hulu, Direct TV or Epix channel if you have it with your cable provider.
The horror films I like the best are the ones that make me desperately uncomfortable in every way. I like them to make me squirm and want to physically move far away from the screen. Though, I do squirm and I do move back into my seat, I know I can't look away. I'm far too compelled by what's happening to look away. Saint Maud is exactly that kind of horror film. I couldn't look away from the screen and I just didn't want to.
Rose Glass has crafted an amazing looking film. Her cinematic language evokes the uneasy, cramped and stuffy horror of the genre's low budget roots. Glass uses a gorgeous tapestry to tell her supernatural story. In combination with cinematographer Ben Fordesman, Glass paints our unease upon her canvas. At times the action is upside down, at others, just to the side of where the action is taking place to show us something out of the ordinary. There's an excellent example as Maud gets her dressing down from her employer and the camera is focused only on a hand repeatedly clicking on a pen. Even as we listen to what's said, it's disconcerting to hear the pen click again and again and again.
Though, one of the best sequences of the film has to be as Maud discovers her purpose. Our view is perched on the top of the stairs as we watch Maud slowly ascend. She's described how it feels to have the Lord enter her and give her purpose, but this is the first strong visual representation of the experience. The light flickers and there's a hum of sound and it looks and sounds as if Maud is having an orgasm. She puts a hand on the wall for leverage and another on the bannister, the camera is smooth as it lifts above her as she hits the landing and falls to it in ecstasy, her body writhing in the spirit that has overcome her.
That's the trick of the film. Is there a true religious revelation, a true connection with the divine, or is it something else? Glass' writing is so well measured that we're kept off balance about the reality of Maud's situation. There's something underneath that's understood that Maud is unreliable, that her narration as prayer is not what we think it is and that spell is cracked when a friend sees her on the street and calls her Katie. Like the best supernatural horror films with a religious bent that have come before it, we suddenly wonder if it's a psychotic break or a true divine provenance. That is until that final scene an instant of knowing.
All of this film's incredible story hinges on its central performance and Morfyyd Clark and she is brilliant, but what is a saint without her sinner. Jennifer Ehle doesn't have a large amount of screen time, but what she does with the time she's allowed is staggering. She's that temptress, that conniving snake in the garden that Maud wants to save. Ehle imbues the role with alternately such vulnerability, warmth and venom that you desperately wish there was more of her, or somehow a reverse of the action where you see things from Amanda's point of view. The great actress that is Jennifer Ehle enriches and nearly steals every scene she's in.
I want to write so much more about this film. I want to delve into its full symbolism, its bold visual effects, and its staggering ending, but I want you to see it first. I want you to see it and I want to talk to you about it because this is a film that will live with me for a long while. This is a film that burrows in deep and expands. I highly encourage you to let it burrow in and to be as terrified and enticed as I am.