SAINT MAUD (2021)

May 24, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. This feature film debut from writer-director Rose Glass made the festival rounds beginning in 2019 and, like so many films, had it’s opening delayed due to COVID. So even though it officially opened in February, I’m just now getting around to seeing it.

Morfydd Clark (THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD, 2019, and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, 2016) stars as Maud, a nurse relieved of her duties at a hospital after a tragedy. She’s a recent convert to Roman Catholicism from a more free-spirited lifestyle, and is now convinced God not only speaks to her, but also periodically enters her body. Maud takes a new job as an in-home palliative care nurse for Amanda (Jennifer Ehle, ZERO DARK THIRTY, 2012), a former popular dancer/choreographer who resides in a large British seaside home as she waits for the terminal cancer to do what it does.

As Amanda chain smokes, guzzles booze, and entertains guests (both intimately and socially), Maud becomes more committed to saving Amanda from herself so that she might have everlasting peace in her soon-to-come death. Though initially enchanted by Maud’s pious dedication, Amanda ultimately rejects Maud’s role as savior in a most public and humiliating manner. This not only costs Maud her job, but kicks her into a faith-questioning, pain/penance/sacrifice mode that is painful to watch. We’ve witnessed her in a near-orgasmic state as God takes over, and now we see the solitude and extreme loneliness of a lost soul seeking direction. Is she possessed?  If so, by which “side”? If not, is she a religious zealot or is she mentally ill … is there even a distinction between the two?  Maud’s two different eye colors lend credence to two sides battling for control.

In addition to Ms. Glass’ screenplay and direction and terrific imagery, cinematographer Ben Fordesman contributes strong work with extreme close-ups of Ms. Clark, as well as creative shots of Amanda’s house that succeed in turning it into a character – a house on the hill that’s not the haunted one. The score from Adam Janota Bzowski adds just the right atmosphere to the uneasy feeling we have around Maud. The supporting cast includes Lily Frazier as Carol, Amanda’s online hook-up, and Lily Knight as Joy, Maud’s friend and former co-worker.

We are initially led to believe this is a story about the unlikely connection between Maud and Amanda, but in fact, this is Maud’s story and no one else’s. Has she been chosen as God’s disciple, or is she losing her mind? Filmmaker Rose, whether intentionally or not, seems influenced by some fine films, including: William Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST (1973), Scott Derrickson’s THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (2005), and two projects from Paul Schrader – TAXI DRIVER (1976) and FIRST REFORMED (2017). The inclusions of William Blake’s religious paintings contribute to this as an example of the feelings non-believers have towards the overly religious and their often accompanying hypocrisy. Morfydd Clark’s performance is top notch, and this is arthouse spiritual horror at its finest … certainly not for the masses, but sure to tickle the fancy of a few.

Currently streaming on Amazon Prime

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