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‘Saint Maud’ offers a unique vision of religious horror

| Friday, February 19, 2021

Elaine Park | The Observer

The world of horror is rife with films that play upon religious imagery, many of which are derivative of classics such as “The Exorcist” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” Going in, I was worried that “Saint Maud” might feel contrived or familiar much like many other films in this genre. I could not have been more wrong. Instead, I found “Saint Maud” to be unique, refreshing and deeply disturbing.

The debut of writer/director Rose Glass, “Saint Maud” is not a typical horror film. There are no bombastic set pieces, no jump scares and no hope. At its core, “Saint Maud” is a character study of a mentally-ill protagonist who uses faith to cope with the traumas of her past.

“Saint Maud” follows Maud (Morfydd Clark), a live-in nurse and her new patient, Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a once famous dancer who now lives in isolation as she fights terminal cancer. A recent convert to Catholicism, Maud believes that she has a divine connection to God and that he speaks to her. She repeatedly begs God to reveal her greater purpose, believing that she has been divinely tasked with saving Amanda’s soul. She begins to view herself as a saint.

What first seems to be misguided piousness quickly becomes zealotry as we see Maud begin to perform acts of self-flagellation and mortification of the flesh, through which she hopes to sanctify herself and become closer to God. “Saint Maud” is not a film that leaves itself open to interpretation; the film’s final frames answer any remaining questions viewers may have and are certain to be burned into their retinas for days after watching.

Glass has crafted a film that does not rely upon scares to get a reaction from the audience, instead opting to fill every moment of the film with creeping dread. The audience knows that a terrible event will come to pass but are never quite sure what it will be. I would not classify this as a traditionally scary film, but rather as one that is tense and deeply unsettling. While there are elements of body horror in “Saint Maud,” these do not play as scares as they might in a “Saw” film. Instead, they act as a window into Maud’s mind as she slowly decouples from reality.

Clark’s performance carries the film. Her portrayal of Maud is both deeply moving and viscerally disturbing, and her incredible physicality and cold demeanor bring Maud to life. Maud is a character that the audience is meant to feel sympathy for; she is wholly alone in this world. We watch her spiral further and further out of control, but we can do nothing to save her — only Maud can save herself. But from the first frame of the film we know, deep down, that Maud is doomed. We cannot save her. Nothing can.

From a technical standpoint, “Saint Maud” is stunning. The audience is treated to a film that is both visually and sonically astounding thanks to the combination of Ben Fordesman’s cinematography, Mark Towns’ editing and Adam Janota Bzowski’s score. While the film is gorgeous to look at, I do have a few gripes with the visual effects, particularly toward the end. The CGI that is employed to create the effects does not quite work. Thankfully, the effect is not on screen for long.

“Saint Maud” is a dark, uniquely horrifying treat that will appeal to veteran horror fanatics and newcomers to the genre alike. Let “Saint Maud” pay you a visit — it is sure to be one that you will not soon forget.


Movie: “Saint Maud”

Director: Rose Glass

Starring: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle

If you liked: “Carrie,” “The Lodge,” “Jacob’s Ladder”

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

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