REVIEW: ‘Saint Maud’ is a Visceral Take on Salvation

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When I first saw the trailer for Saint Maud, the muted color palette and subject matter made me believe that it was chasing the high of Hereditary. And I couldn’t have been more wrong. The debut film from writer-director Rose Glass, Saint Maud hits hard as a bold and visceral vision tackling faith and salvation. While I’ve been sitting on writing this review since the film’s first intended release window, A24’s first release of 2021 is finally here to unsettle audiences.

The debut film from writer-director Rose Glass, Saint Maud is a chilling and boldly original vision of faith, madness, and salvation in a fallen world. Maud (Morfydd Clark), a newly devout hospice nurse, becomes obsessed with saving her dying patient’s soul. But sinister forces, and her own sinful past, threaten to put an end to her holy calling. “Hey God, it’s me, Maud,” pretty much sums up Saint Maud in the simplest of terms.

That said, Saint Maud is a salient mixture of ecstasy, religion, and the kind of fear that only some from Catholic guilt understand. That is to say, it’s a ride of highs and lows told in dark lighting that has a quality that feels unrestricted by time period. Despite being present day, the colors, the costuming, and Maud herself feel detached from time. Maud is in two worlds. The contemporary one she lives in physically and the old world of communing with God that she longs to be a part of—the one saints and nuns and direct connections with the divine.

Maud is an addict, clawing at and searching for that high of unity with the divine that the audience is never sure whether she is achieving or if she is imagining. Saint Maud is in fact a film about a religious quest as much as it is a horror film. It’s one of self-flagellation and repentance as the mask for selfishness and trauma. There is an immense sadness that comes from Maud and her decisions and that melancholy is wrapped in layers of pretentious piety that she pushes on those around her.

Satin Maud

As Maud, Clark is stunningly terrifying, wicked, fragile, and vulnerable. Her ability to oscillate through emotions is shocking at points and sympathetic at others. She’s scared because she’s scarred but at other times her fear comes from the fact that she did the scarring. Maud is trying to find peace in a power that she has read about—a peace that will forgive her for sins and let her know that she has become someone new, and ultimately, someone worthy of love.

As the film continues, Maud unravels. And it’s in her unraveling that we see some of the more supernatural elements of the film. We’re taken from a slow-burning psychological thriller to a fast-paced supernatural and psychological horror which begins to make it a different film.  Communication with God is her reward for devotion but as the film develops, devotion unravels into madness, and the lines of what is true and what is not blurs. With the back half of the film embracing supernatural elements, it would be easy for Glass to lose control of the narrative, but she doesn’t. Instead, the sudden shift in the film is executed by showcasing the shifts in Maud herself.

My one fear with this psychological film is that the long wait has bolstered expectations for Saint Maud that the film won’t be able to satisfy. This isn’t saying that Saint Maud is bad by any means, but as one of the most anticipated horrors of the year, the film doesn’t aim to terrify its viewer. Instead, it aims to crawl under their skin with small moments of bodily injury that yield unsettling sounds and visuals that will make you squirm. Additionally, its narrative will hit hard for those who have left the Catholic faith because they will have their own litmus test for Maud’s devotion. But for those that are outside of it, there is a bridge to cross to understand certain elements of the film.

Overall, however, Saint Maud is a stunning film. Visually, Saint Maud is interesting and visceral and when it comes to acting, Clark is unmatched. Glass has crafted a breathtaking first film that will light a fire in its audience once the credits roll.

Saint Maud is in select theaters now and available on VoD February 12, 2021.

Saint Maud
9.5/10

TL;DR

Overall, however, Saint Maud is a stunning film. Visually, Saint Maud is interesting and visceral and when it comes to acting, Clark is unmatched. Glass has crafted a breathtaking first film that will light a fire in its audience once the credits roll.