Directed By Rose Glass
Starring – Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Knight
The Plot – Maud (Clark), an unstable, newly devout hospice nurse, becomes obsessed with saving her dying patient’s soul, but sinister forces and her own sinful past threaten her holy calling.
Rated R for Sexual content, adult language, and disturbing and Violent Content
– Psychological Vs Supernatural. If you’re expecting a series of tropes or cliches, like jump scares, from the horror genre that has become the conventional by contemporary standards, you will probably be disappointed with “Saint Maud”. Instead, the movie’s unsettling imagery and absorbingly thick atmosphere sets up a series of frights that often breaks the realm of reality, and makes us constantly question what we’re seeing before us. For my money, I feel that since we follow Maud’s perspective for the entirety of the film, everything that is taking shape visually is being portrayed from the frail and decaying mentality that is her psyche. Because of such, we’re treated to a series of faulty translations from the bible, as well as an obscured outlook on life and interactions that illustrate Maud’s continuous descent into loneliness, and one that is conjured into a series of chills that vividly paint the despair of such a plaguing condition.
– Ladies night. We will get to the impeccable directing from Glass later on, but it’s the stellar work from her two leading ladies that continuously captures our attention, and leads to two distinctly different character personalities juggling the struggle in contention. Clark is breathtakingly riveting as the titular character, presenting us a shy, tight-lipped exterior of a protagonist on the outside, who is bottling up the fire eating her from within on the inside. Her transformation in the film from beginning to end is meticulously brilliant, shedding the layers of conformity in her many momentary setbacks for a fiery rage whose explosion will be felt for miles surrounding her. Ehle is less disturbing, but equally captivating as this reeling cancer patient whose own unfortunate predicament condenses her outlook on life and religion accordingly, and gives us a woman, who like Maud, is reaching for any semblance of emotion as a sedative to tie over her overwhelming adversity. The movie is best when these two women share the screen together, offering an exceptional delve into the minds of two remarkable women in the same movie.
– Meaningful narration. “Saint Maud” is a fine example of when and what to do with psychological exposition. Because Maud is such a cryptically blank slate of personality and ideals, the audible narration heard throughout is a treat to the audience seeking answers to the bigger mysteries being exerted in such powerful visuals. It gives us much-needed insight into the woman whose movements and executions without such would be easier to label as a mentally disturb patron, but with them make the argument easier to comprehend, even if we the audience don’t fully condone how she’s shaping the religious narrative in her favor. In addition to this, nothing that Maud is conveying to us the audience is obviously evident in the context of the scene, instilling an importance to inclusion that colorfully bridges the gap between intention and action that helps us decipher this wild card of a woman whom we spend so much time with.
– Technically sound. There are many elements here to applaud the production for, but easily the highlight is the haunting sound mixing, which knows the appropriate moments to keep the hypnotic musical score from Adam Bzowski secluded. In absorbing as much of the quiet that this movie’s prolonged sequences has to offer, we get a clearer picture of the disdain that plagues our jaded protagonist, outlining a brand of loneliness that unfortunately influences the matters she takes into her own hands. Aside from this, the tight knit cinematography from Ben Fordesman, the same man who brought the nightmarish reality of identification to life in 2013’s “The Double”, conveys a series of claustrophobic shot compositions and single character framing that equally balances the themes of loneliness and isolation made obvious by the sound design. It enhances the experience when the production can place anyone in the shoes of its protagonist, regardless of their own real life statures, and it gives us an experience, that like Maud, begs for any kind of voice to fill the void, regardless if its one with dark and sorrowful intentions.
– Thought-provoking. Like any great movie tackling something as universally hefty as religious translation, “Saint Maud” too throws its social commentary hat into the ring by presenting a series of situations and interpretations, and leaving the arguments to us the audience investing in them. This is where Glass the screenwriter is able to shine, because she doesn’t condemn one side for the other in terms of religion, and where it can helpfully fill the need for what’s missing in someone’s life. Instead, she capably articulates that it’s Maud’s psyche that is her greatest antagonist here, and a monster as such that shapes and distorts meaning in the book in any manner she sees fit. As someone who is a well known atheist to their friends and family, I found plenty to enjoy and endure about the film that never felt weighed or tied down by its need to constantly include religion to the subtext of the film. Instead, it naturally presents itself when the time feels necessary, and instills a series of questions and discussions to the forefront of the film that really convey a sense of urgency to religious meanings being in the wrong hands.
– Distinct brand of horror. Part of what allows “Saint Maud” to stand out so effectively is the unique hybrid of elements in subgenres that it stirs to create one satisfactory sinister dish. There are moments of gore scattered throughout the film, but nothing ever feels gratuitous or exploitative to be bloody just because it’s a horror film. This one mostly stays psychological, and it’s a good thing because so much of the script is driven by a mental muscle that drives subtlety all the way until its mind-bending finale, which I will get to later. On top of all of this, I loved the way that conventions of religious horror are bent to accommodate the need of the narrative. Primarily is the case with a protagonist who is forcing her religion on everyone surrounding her. It makes for a particularly terrifying set of circumstances when you consider that Maud feels justified by her actions in the face of religious influence, and will use them at whatever cost to attain the kind of love she seeks.
– Voice of God. (Slight spoiler) There’s an interesting take on the voice of God himself in the second half of the film, which not only remains truthful to Maud’s heritage, but also makes sense considering it’s another aspect being played out from Maud’s perspective. God is surprisingly voiced by Clark, with a voice distortion in mixing pitched down a few levels to reach male encompassing. I didn’t find this out until I read the production notes after seeing the film, and offers the biggest contrast imaginable, considering Clark’s angelic falsetto is the exact opposite of deep and intimidating. On top of this, God is speaking in Welsh, which is a credit to both Maud and Clark, both of whom are of Wales descent. This is especially rewarding for the context of the character because if it’s from her perspective, it makes sense that this is how she hears this mysterious figure. It’s another example of the weight in conscience that the movie invests in, and only supplants further proof to the argument I previously instilled that all of this is being told from Maud’s perspective.
– Ground-shaking finale. If you learn anything from my words here, know that the final ten minutes of this movie are among the most surprising and circumstantial of any movie that I have seen this year. It’s nice to have a resolution in a movie that attains the level of notoriety that was hinted at throughout the entirety of the film, but beyond that it’s the level of impact felt from two devastating blows that pack enough of a punch in resounding power to supplant two films. This not only makes the third act of the movie the highlight of the entire picture, but also leaves audiences on the highest of highs during the moments when it matters the most, inevitably leaving them with a gut-punching final image that bottles pain, empathy, sorrow, and content all in the instant of Glass’s last shot. One that supplants her as a voice of promise in cinema for many years to come.
– Ambiguously faulty. Even though I appreciate a movie that doesn’t spoon feed us all of the answers in the backstories of the characters included, the script does have an element to unfulfillment that it simply can’t escape from. This comes in the form of Maud’s past involving a tragic event that has shaped her outlook on life and religious devotion for the majority of the film. We get the answers in a late act exposition drop between Maud and an old friend who shows up sporadically when the film requires her to, but it’s a bit of an afterthought with where it’s inserted into the act, and the level of time it’s given after to materialize in the minds of its audience. Aside from this, there’s a couple of rushed aspects in the film that could better use exposition time to illustrate their cause, and help with the overall pacing that could definitely use some additional minutes of screen time during the first act to invest in the initial engagements.
– Uneven halves. As previously indicated, the first act of the movie has some pacing problems, but it’s even bigger when you consider that the entirety of the first half of the 79 minute film is entirely inferior to the second one. Most of the problems stem from the first half being scareless and completely void of anything thrilling from a material sense. This makes it essential to invest in these characters immediately, or your hooks of interest won’t sink into the narrative properly. Aside from this, most of the first act feels rushed in execution between properly laying the groundwork for the central dynamic between Clark and Ehle that the rest of the film depends on. Their growing relationship just kind of conveniently comes together without ever truly showing why each of them fit so well with the other one, and we the audience are just kind of forced to go along with it. For my money, more time could’ve fixed all of this, and made much of the uninteresting stick as strongly as the substance of the material.
My Grade: 8/10 or B+