MOVIE REVIEW: SAINT MAUD delivers a dark baptism in psychological horror


Writer/director Rose Glass makes her feature debut following a flawed nurse who might either be going mad or just might be experiencing the ecstasy of being chosen for a higher purpose.

History is filled with stories of ordinary figures being plucked and chosen for a higher purpose by a higher power to inspire and lead others with their belief. There are the stories of Joan of Arc, who received holy visions urging her to take arms to save France from English domination in the 1400s. There are the Portuguese children who claimed to have been visited by the Lady of Fatima in the 1910s who claimed they would be shown miracles and that the Virgin Mary would deliver them from the Great War. The commonalities were that these were simple people who were in harsh circumstances dying for relief from the pain and world they found themselves in. A pain that could also manifest itself in many as an onset of a mental break or psychotic episode. The thin line that divides between belief in a manifestation of the divine or a break in one’s emotional core can be a thin one. What was once thought to be demonic possession now is more understood to be a symptom of severe schizophrenia. But from the perspective of the person experiencing that pain and confusion, what is real is very subjective and in the eyes of the devout, it is often unquestionably the mark of the Divine.

Writer/director Rose Glass explores this dichotomy in her debut film, Saint Maud, which opens on January 29th in theaters and on February 12th on the cable channel EPIX. In Saint Maud, we follow the titular Maud, a bravura performance by actor Morfydd Clark, as she takes on a new position as a hospice nurse in an unnamed London coastal town. Her charge is Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a former dancer who is in the terminal throes of Stage 4 spinal cancer.

Maud has recently converted to Roman Catholicism in the wake of a tragic incident that left her broken and drove her away from nursing in a big hospital and for which she blames herself and cannot find a way to forgive herself. In contrast, Amanda is an atheist; she found herself in her dance career and now lives every moment as if it is her last. She pays an escort to spend time with her and somehow finds Maud’s devout faith deliciously naive. When Maud reveals to Amanda that she feels God talks to her and touches her, she joins her in prayer and feigns the rapture that Maud feels. From this point forward, Maud is convinced that her goal and purpose is to bring Amanda’s soul to God’s salvation before it is too late.

That being said, Maud is not the ideal Christian to lead another by their testimony and actions. In many ways, Maud is prejudiced, small, and empty. She’s an outsider and aloof and has judgmental thoughts. She wants to bring Amanda to God on her terms, not Amanda’s. When Maud’s plans begin to go askew, she starts to question everything about herself, and it’s at that moment that the movie asks the viewer to take a leap of faith with Maud; one that leads to an incredible and terrifying finale that places Saint Maud at the forefront of the new age of horror pushed by other A24 films like Hereditary and Midsommar.

At the same time, Saint Maud is a character study of a flawed and fragile person at their lowest depths trying to find an anchor to tie them to the world as someone of worth. Maud is not unlike Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle in that regard; a broken person at their core who is trying to make their way in life with a code they hold onto, looking for something outside of themselves to prove their worth. She chooses Amanda as her mission, but at her lowest moment, she tries to fit in with those her age and go out and is rewarded with a physical encounter that starts consensual but winds up being anything but the case. Is it any wonder that the touch of the divine might be the only way to come back from such an experience.

Ultimately, Saint Maud keeps you engaged; in the drama of what is happening to Maud and if there is a way out of the guilt and loneliness she feels; in the relationship between herself and Amanda and what is the cost of a human soul, let alone two. Saint Maud is one of the first thought-provoking genre films of 2021 and a fascinating character piece to marvel at with tremendous performances that keep you engaged throughout the film.