Saint Maud (2021)

Morfydd Clark stars in "Saint Maud" (image: A24 Films)

Review

SAINT MAUD (2021)

Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Fraser, Lily Knight, Marcus Hutton, Turlough Convery, Rosie Sansom, Jel Djelal, Carl Prekopp

Directed by Rose Glass

“May God bless you and never waste your pain” asserts Maud (Morfydd Clark) as she gives a homeless man some spare change. A devout Catholic and palliative care nurse, Maud is on a mission to save souls. Her latest patient/candidate is Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a prominent ex-dancer and choreographer battling cancer. Iconic imagery and a slow narrative style reminiscent of “Taxi Driver” prepares the viewer for the ultimate showdown between good and evil. “Saint Maud,” like Ari Aster’s “Hereditary,” spends most of its time fermenting waiting for the final chapter to develop into a full-fledged horror film complete a climax that will be forever forged into the deep recesses of your mind.

The debut feature from writer-director Rose Glass is a maddening descent into psychosis with a terrific performance by Morfydd Clark as the film’s title character named after the Catholic saint known for comforting the sick. Our protagonist, however, aligns herself with another religious icon, Mary Magdalene, evident by the pendant worn around her neck. Like Magdalene — for many, the embodiment of Christian devotion — Maud’s life is filled with repentance. Does it have anything to do with the bloody body on a hospital slab in the film’s opening scene? It remains a matter of conjecture.

Maud, a loner with repressed desires, is not naïve. She has strong opinions about others and the world around her, as expressed in voice-over narration sounding like a female Travis Bickle, “I can’t shake the feeling that you must have saved me for something greater than this” she declares to God, regarding her job as a palliative care nurse. Maud’s mission to carry out the Lord’s work by saving souls has consumed her to the point that she has abandoned the trait most associated with the pious, compassion.

Upon first glance, the film’s setting resembles the boardwalk in Coney Island until we glance at the promontory that rises above Scarborough in North Yorkshire. Maud climbs the steep hill to reach her new patient Amanda who lives alone in a large dark home. The 49-year-old once-prominent dancer is facing Stage 4 lymphoma of the spinal cord. Upon meeting her, Maud mentions to God, “I dare say you’ll be seeing this one soon.”

As the film progresses Amanda reveals that she’s an atheist (complicating Maud’s mission further) and there are no signs of conversion looming in the distance. Amanda knows her time is limited and so without anything to look forward to after death she has decided to go out with a bang by drinking, smoking, hosting lavish parties, and sharing intimate moments with her young lover Carol (Lily Fraser). This causes strife between the nurse and her patient and plays out like a good vs evil metaphor.

“Saint Maud” takes its visual cues from 60s horror films, especially Roman Polanski's “Repulsion” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” The contemporary story never wavers from the surreal tone that heightens the supernatural elements, yet when we hear God’s thunderous voice speaking to Maud (flashbacks of Thomasin speaking to Black Phillip in “The Witch”) we are left rationalizing the scene rather than toss it up as a legitimate miracle. Is the Lord speaking to his disciple or is this just a hallucination brought on by Maud’s disconnection from reality? Two things are certain, Rose Glass just delivered a brilliant feature debut, and the Lord works in mysterious ways.

(4 stars)

Now showing at iPic Theaters River Oaks District and Memorial City 16 (Houston). Debuts exclusively on Epix beginning February 12.

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Joe Friar is a member of the Critics Choice Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. A lifelong fan of cinema, he co-founded the Victoria Film Society, Frels Fright Fest, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic. 

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Joe Friar is a member of the Critics Choice Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. A lifelong fan of cinema, he co-founded the Victoria Film Society, Frels Fright Fest, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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