The feature debut of Rose Glass engaged and shocked audiences at Fantastic Fest. It’s a film that terrifies as much as it intrigues, and will keep audiences guessing up until the very last horrific second.
Maud (Morfydd Clark) is a hospice care nurse who has recently taken on a new client. Pius and humble, her religion and her work are the only things in her life. We understand through hints at her backstory that her dedication to Christianity is a fairly recent development, likely stemming from the unexpected death of a former patient. Maud prays every day, dedicates herself and her work to God, and tries to live her life as a good Christian woman.
Her patient, Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), is a former dancer struggling to face the end of her life, and instead chooses to hold tightly to the lavish lifestyle that she has always embraced. On the surface, it seems impossible that this pair would form a connection, but somehow, they do. Amanda expresses interest in Maud’s devotion to her beliefs. Maud, flattered to be asked, explains the comfort that her religion gives her. She never feels alone and knows that she is loved. Her life has found a purpose that she hadn’t known before. She sees Amanda’s interest as an opportunity. The woman doesn’t have much time left, but Maud has the chance to use her time to help her find a spiritual connection.
The film is a slow progression through the days that Maud and Amanda spend together. They form a bond and a friendship, and Maud uses that to try to influence Amanda’s behavior. She tries to limit her drinking and her visitors, hoping instead to spend more time together, just the two of them (and God). Maud’s religion often keeps her from making a solid connection with the people around her, but with Amanda, everything seems to settle in naturally. Maud feels close to her almost immediately, in spite of warnings from the outgoing nurse that Amanda is a bit of a handful.
Throughout the film, the majority of the horror stems from Maud’s intense religious beliefs. She is dedicated to living a life of sacrifice. In addition to her small and sparse apartment, she offers prayers in the form of pain. She believes that through self-mutilation, she can express her love for God. These moments offer great insight into Maud’s mind. She feels that these efforts are noble, and will seemingly stop at nothing to express her devotion
Naturally, as the plot unfolds, Maud’s dedication to her religion, along with her ever-fading connection to reality, cause her to go a little off the deep end, but definitely not in the way you would expect. There is a lot of brilliance in Rose Glass’ debut, and part of it is in keeping the audience guessing. This film does not trod the well-worn path and deliver something we have seen before. It goes to interesting places (many of them dark) and pulls a couple of very surprising moments out of nowhere.
The story is elegantly told. The film might be a slow one, but there is always something to gain in terms of character development or interaction, and the horror moments don’t disappoint. If you have been looking for an interesting take on religious or psychological horror, Saint Maud is a film you will definitely want to be on the watch for.
Movie Score: 5/5
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