Film Review: Saint Maud

[Contains spoilers]
TW: self-harm, body horror, blood, suicide, mental abuse, physical abuse

Rose Glass’ new horror Saint Maud (2019) focuses on Maud (Morfydd Clark), a religious nurse who
becomes a carer for Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a retired dancer suffering from cancer. Amanda is
experiencing a psychological crisis as she seeks to come to terms with her inexorable death. Despite
the active and glamorous life she has led, she now feels alone and lacks intimacy. Her coping
mechanisms – smoking, drinking, sex – are sinful in Maud’s eyes, who soon becomes determined to
save Amanda’s soul. She sees this as a mission from God; and Amanda is unaware of the lengths to
which Maud is willing to go to achieve this.

From the very beginning of the film, Maud seem sympathetic and yet simultaneously
threatening. Despite her soft outer shell, the passion within her seeps through when she “protects”
Amanda from influences she perceives as harmful; she even confronts Amanda’s partner Carol (Lily
Frazer) and tells her to leave Amanda alone. Carol concedes easily, but while it is clear to the
audience that she merely says this to get out of an uncomfortable and threatening situation, Maud
does not read into this. It is her concurrent benevolence and determination that make her an
interesting character. Throughout the film the audience is kept at the edge of their seats as Maud
becomes increasingly obsessed with Amanda.

Saint Maud is a skilfully crafted film that builds up suspense, and Maud’s self-destructive
behaviour successfully builds up this tension. Maud associates self-imposed physical pain as a
prerequisite for strong psychological determination, which becomes increasingly disconcerting for
the audience as she self-harms by intentionally burning her arm and stepping on shoes with nails in
them. These grotesque ‘body-horror’-style scenes only grow in number.
Drawing inspiration from Taxi Driver and Lady Macbeth, Glass’ film explores the theme of an
individual’s social isolation within society and the drastic consequences of this. Maud is a lonely
person and this sense of isolation becomes particularly evident when Maud goes to a bar and is
surrounded by groups of people, feeling that she does not fit in. Maud finds comfort in religion –
where drinking and smoking are Amanda’s coping mechanisms, religion is hers. Maud has no one to
talk to and the only friend she has is her former colleague Joy (Lily Knight). Joy becomes Maud’s last
chance out of loneliness, but by the time she reaches out to Maud it is too little too late. Maud’s
experience of loneliness and isolation represents the real-life difficulties of getting accessible, affordable and immediate help for mental issues – difficulties that are regrettably real in the society

Despite the numerous five-star reviews claiming it is “the horror film of the year”, Saint
Maud did not feel extraordinary and was very mild in terms of its horror content. While it may be
disappointing for horror fans, it is a film for those who enjoy psychological dramas and are
interested in the themes of isolation and religion. The dynamic between Maud and Amanda; the
gradual build-up of suspense; as well as Maud’s deteriorating mental condition, made Saint Maud a
suspenseful and thought-provoking watch.

[Kristiina Kangasluoma @overthefrogwall]

[Photo Credit: IMDb]

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