Saint Maud Synopsis: Maud (Morfydd Clark) is a reclusive young nurse whose impressionable demeanor causes her to pursue a pious path of Christian devotion after an obscure trauma. Now charged with the hospice care of Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a retired dancer ravaged by cancer, Maud’s fervent faith quickly inspires an obsessive conviction to save her ward’s soul from eternal damnation, whatever the cost.
Nearly a year and a half removed from its uproarious Toronto International Film Festival debut (the film endured several COVID-related delays), A24’s holy horror vehicle Saint Maud is finally seeing the light of day. While its unceremonious Epix release is somewhat of a bummer, writer/director Rose Glass crafts an impressive debut with her moody meditations on religion’s comforting allures.
Atmospheric horror relies upon a connection between themes and technique, with the numerous misfires showcasing the inherent difficulty behind this finite balance. Saint Maud expertly escapes the genre’s occasionally overwhelming vapidness. From jump street, Glass viscerally places the audience in Maud’s insular footsteps, eerily blending our reality with Maud’s distorted view of the world around her. Her usage of dim lighting and intoxicating score choices generate a dreary mood for audiences to get lost in.
Where some filmmakers would push this division with cheap tricks, Glass’ empathetic eye allows audiences to delve beneath the surface of Maud’s obsessive tendencies. The horrors here generate from religion’s role as an emotional safeguard, as Maud’s supportive life-preserver eventually overtakes her life while repressed traumas spiral past their inevitable breaking point. Saint Maud works more than most horror vehicles because it doesn’t try to incite entertainment out of its dour circumstances. Glass creates a constant unease from Maud’s degradation without exploiting the character’s overwhelming pains in the process.
While some movies boast an accomplished cast, Saint Maud excels with a group that feels irreplaceable in their given roles. Morfydd Clark delivers a remarkable breakout turn as Maud, developing layers of emotion and complexion under the character’s mousy presence. It’s the quieter frames that showcase Clark’s ability the best, breaking down Maud’s rigid exterior to discover a desire to grow and connect. The supremely-underrated Jennifer Ehle makes a fitting sparring partner as an oft-kilter care patient, with the character’s free-spirited attitude clashing against Maud’s oppressive beliefs.
I was enamored throughout Saint Maud’s tight-knit 84-minute runtime, but Glass’ speedy experience does trade some of its depth in favor of genre trappings. For a narrative screenwriting debut, Glass admirably observes trauma and the ways we mask those pains through other vices. I just felt like there could have been more time to breathe within Maud’s turmoil, as a fairly rushed third act pushes the climax to a satisfying, yet semi-unfinished place. Glass’ ruminations on religion also aren’t singular enough to differentiate this story from other horror movies about obsessive protagonists.
A few familiar debut falterings never take away from Saint Maud’s alluring strengths. Writer/director Rose Glass exhibits herself as a promising voice due to her well-calibrated balance between style and substance.