Saint Maud

When I first saw the trailer for LOVE LIES BLEEDING I thought “I need to see SAINT MAUD, don’t I?” It’s the first movie from writer/director Rose Glass, which was heavily hyped after playing TIFF and Fantastic Fest, and was picked up by A24, who of course gave it an intriguing trailer that was playing on all the horror movies. But that was in 2020, so the pandemic happened, it got delayed for a while, and ultimately only received a limited release in January of 2021, which was a no-go for me because it was well before vaccines were available.

So the hype train grinded to a halt, and personally I needed it to push me over the small hill of it looking like religious horror. You know, you put “Saint” in the title, you show her in some kind of robe on the poster, you show her levitating, I’m gonna assume it has something to do with possession or some shit. I can watch a movie like that if it’s a really good one, but I need some encouragement. Glass’s follow-up looking amazing gave me that.

It turns out that yes, technically SAINT MAUD probly counts as religious horror, but it’s not about possession or nuns or any of that shit. It’s doing its own thing. It stars Morfydd Clark (PRIDE + PREJUDICE + ZOMBIES, CRAWL) as Maud, a private palliative care nurse in a small seaside town (Scarsborough, North Yorkshire, England), hired to take care of Amanda Köhl (Jennifer Ehle, ZERO DARK THIRTY, ROBOCOP remake), a famous American dancer and choreographer dying of cancer, who the previous nurse warns is kind of a c-word.

They seem like opposites, because Maud is shy and very religious, while Amanda is a professed atheist who has lived a wild, Bohemian life in the arts. But Amanda is able to confide in Maud about her fear of death, asks her about her beliefs in a non-judgmental way, and really seems to enjoy her company. She politely plays along with her prayers, seems to think they’re kind of cute, at one point even claims to feel the presence of God (they both moan orgasmically, possibly not for the same reasons). Kinda weird but you’re allowed to believe what you want I guess.

It’s not the easiest job for Maud – she leaves Amanda alone with an old friend (Marcus Hutton, MADE IN DAGENHAM), and is immediately called back to put her to bed and clean up puke, because she can’t hold her drink anymore. So Amanda appreciates her. She doesn’t know better yet. But a possessive and controlling side of Maud reveals itself when Amanda’s girlfriend Carol (Lily Frazer, THE GENTLEMEN) starts coming over. We know Maud is really out of line when she confronts Carol and tells her she’s endangering Amanda’s soul and needs to stay away.

Carol thinks Maud is being homophobic, or maybe racist, but it might just be general prudishness. She pretends to accept Maud’s demand but then shows up for Amanda’s birthday bash, clearly having told her about the confrontation. On one hand, Amanda is overly forgiving, not firing Maud’s ass immediately for that bullshit. On the other hand, she gets tipsy and starts making fun of her about it, and her friends join in, and it’s very mean. Anyway, Maud slaps her, so that’s the end of that gig.

As you’d probly guess, it’s more about character than plot. Glass wisely introduces Maud to us as the well-meaning, naive little woman with the chirpy voice and the cozy sweaters who initially amuses Amanda, before implying there’s more to the story when she runs into an old co-worker, Joy (Lily Knight), who calls her a different name and seems surprised she got more work as a nurse after some horrible thing that happened at the old job. Maud’s voiceovers of goofily conversational talks with God make a little more sense when we realize the whole Christianity thing is a recent obsession brought on by the incident.

And now without a job she becomes a completely different person, going to the pub and picking out a random guy to give a hand job in the hallway. But her religious practice also escalates, as she samples different approaches to self-flagellation, such as creating insoles full of tacks to put in her Converse, and walking around trying not to wince too much. It’s a really impressive performance by Clark, an increasingly unnerving portrait of an unhinged person, but never completely losing my sympathy.

One highlight is the scene where Joy comes to check on her on her. Maud lets her into her sparse studio apartment and stands there in her underwear, mostly not talking, but lying about how totally fine and happy she is. Joy picks up on some of the long list of red flags, looks curiously at the religious altar that doesn’t seem to match the person she used to know, but takes her word for it. Okay, she says she’s fine, I guess she’s fine, I did my due diligence. You don’t want to believe your friend is as far gone as Maud is.

I think what makes it work for me is the texture of the thing, the many small choices that make it fall outside of any mold I expected. If anything it seems closest to a ‘90s suspense thriller about a roommate/nanny/whatever who turns out to have a secret past and a dangerous obsession, but it doesn’t look or feel like those movies – partly because it stays with that person the whole time, never takes the point-of-view of her victim, even though she has the more reasonable one.

And Ehle is so good, such a layered character – witty, a little mischievous, angry at her situation, which she sometimes takes out on others, but mostly she’s a nice person. And very believable as a former dancer. We can see Amanda’s colorful past in her collection of hipster friends and the extra copies of her coffee table book KÖHL on the book shelf. I wonder if she knows Lydia Tár?

I also really like the choice of setting. It seems so very English but the neighborhood is centered around a big, literally flashy arcade called Coney Island, with a ferris wheel and I’m not sure what else next to it. I was a little confused at first, because it sure didn’t seem like the same place from THE WARRIORS. The clash of quaint little town and garish tourist attraction makes it a great place to feel off balance all the time.

Related: I read that Clark wears contacts so that Maud’s eyes are two different colors. I didn’t notice.

Despite the unlucky release, SAINT MAUD did win some honors: two British Independent Film Awards (best debut director, best cinematography), three London Film Critics’ Circle Awards (British/Irish film of the year, British/Irish actress of the year, Breakthrough British/Irish filmmaker), and one Fangoria Chainsaw Award (best first feature). It’s a slight movie, it doesn’t knock your ass through a wall with its horror shit or give you chills with its statement about religion. But what it does it does very well, with some style and originality, and I suspect it signals more good things to come from these actors and this filmmaker.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 19th, 2024 at 7:26 am and is filed under Reviews, Horror, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

7 Responses to “Saint Maud”

  1. I liked this one. I’d heard it was good, it was horror, and it was short– that’s really all I need these days. I went in thinking it would be an Exorcist-type thing, but it kept defying my expectations in multiple ways, always choosing a more interesting place to go. And that final image…!

    Morfydd Clark gives a really uncanny performance. I hope to see her in more things.

  2. I loved this one! Super creepy and not at all what I expected. Amazing that Morfydd Clark ended up playing Galadriel on the Amazon Lord of the Rings prequel show.

  3. This is one of my favourite films of the past few years. Shabby off-season resort towns — in this case Scarborough — are one of the great movie settings. They’re up there with deep-sea mining bases or inns at Chinese mountain passes; you know what you’re going to see will at minimum be watchable.

    What SAINT MAUD most reminds me of is those Hammer and Amicus films from the early ’70s where they decided to take a break from the vampire teeth and velvet gowns, so they’d serve up a kitchen-sink realist psychological thriller that was the bleakest shit you’d ever seen in your life. I mean that in a good way.

  4. Another well made original horror from A24 and the ending was a gut punch. Like mentioned above Clark is great in the LOTR series as well. Vern, would like to hopefully read your take at some point on a more recent psychological horror film I saw in theaters recently called Stop Motion that reminded me of St. Maude a bit regarding psychological unraveling vs is what we are watching really happening to the character. It’s not as good as St. Maude IMO but still an interesting,
    flawed movie with really well done special effects from a first time director.

  5. Kyle – Yeah, I’ve heard of that one, definitely intend to see it at some point. Thanks!

  6. I remember not liking this one at all, but I also saw it a couple of years ago, and don’t remember it that well.

    Reading the review, I think what annoyed me was that the Jennifer Ehle character ultimately comes of as a piece of shit who’s an amused mean girl to her Catholic nurse. And I’m not that big into stories of crazy people getting crazier and taking it out on the world, which is what this movie steers to as it goes on.

    Maybe I’ll give it another shot when I finally get to LOVE LIES BLEEDING someday.

  7. Flying Guillotine

    March 31st, 2024 at 1:22 pm

    I think this film is fantastic. It really shines in the smaller character moments. There’s a beat in which she’s trying to get involve with a conversation at the pub, and it’s quietly heartbreaking to see this person try and fail to find connection with the people around her. And of course that ending — hoo lawdy, good stuff.

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