Saint Maud Review: An incredibly chilling spiritual horror experience
Aside from a pre-COVID release of Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow and a couple releases on Apple TV+, the pandemic basically kept indie film studio A24 quiet for 2020. Now looking to have a much bigger year in 2021, A24 kicks things off with the highly anticipated feature directorial debut of writer/director Rose Glass – the mysterious and horrifying Saint Maud.
When the trailer first dropped, which seems like a decade ago at this point, the film looked absolutely incredible. Its story of a young nurse named Maud (Morfydd Clark) believing God has tasked her with saving the soul of her dying patient Amanda (Jennifer Ehle) was super mysterious and compelling. There were already some incredible visuals shown off in the trailer and the use of Billy Eilish’s “all the good girls go to hell” was legendary. Even the idea that Maud might not be helping God and that her devotion might be for something much darker looked to create a religious horror experience unlike any other. It certainly looked like one hell of a debut for Glass behind the camera and it’s excellent to say that the film completely lives up to the hype in creating a dark and mysterious slow-burn horror experience.
Slow-burn horror is an A24 specialty that can be a little underwhelming if the film can’t keep a viewer’s attention long enough to deliver a satisfying final scare. However, Saint Maud masters this well in keeping its script very tight and utilizing simple visuals to build a stirring mystery around Maud’s ever-growing devotion to God. Glass’ use of a swirling visual as a sign for this presence being near Maud is an instantly intriguing horror visual and acts as this great, almost foreboding notion. Maud having her connection to God grow through physical pain leaves you cringing and even though that scene of her using thumbtacks has been seen in the trailer, it doesn’t make it any less horrifying to watch. Even the dingy cinematography from Ben Fordesman builds on Maud’s growing obsession with God’s purpose for her with the look of the film going from clean and holy to dingy and dark. It’s matched with the slow-building score from Adam Janota Bzowski that builds alongside Maud’s growing obsession that’s brought out excellently through a very physical performance from Clark.
Saint Maud could easily be classified as paranormal body horror with the creepy physicality that Clark brings to Maud’s connection with God. Maud constantly talks about how God’s presence is within her and how she can feel his grasp. Clark’s performance creates these moments where Maud is almost entranced in these sensual grasps that embody everything Maud talks about. It genuinely looks as if someone or something is trying to take control of her body and it’s creepy as hell to watch. These sequences always end with this final orgasmic gasp from Maud that made it look like her face is about to explode and it instantly makes you tense. Clark even kills it in showing Maud to be completely isolated outside of this presence that drives her and delivers some chilling narration dialogue. She’s truly the full horror package here and elevates the horrifying story of dark obsession that Glass has concocted.
Although Maud is obsessed with saving the soul of her patient Amanda, the film is really about Maud essentially finding her own soul through this divine purpose she believes God has given to her. Throughout the film, you’re constantly left wondering if it’s really God or something much more demonic influencing Maud’s beliefs or residual damage left on her from a past traumatic experience that left her searching for a purpose. Glass fleshes out both of these possibilities excellently and creates this compelling mystery that brings Maud’s obsession to dark places. Everything surrounding the tragedy that brought Maud to devoting herself to God is really great since it’s so well-built and creates some empathy towards Maud. There’s this incredible sequence where we get into Maud’s head for a demonic conversation that puts you on edge with how sudden it is. Even better is that the ending is totally flawless as it solidifies Maud’s devotion in a gruesome way and the final moment of this movie catches you completely off guard and is one of the most memorable horror endings to date.
Saint Maud is one of the best horror offerings to come out indie powerhouse A24 and is a stunning directorial debut for Glass that makes her someone to watch out for. If she can continue to deliver the excellent spiritual body horror that’s elevated through Clark’s incredible physicality and the well-built, tight storytelling that contains a tantalizing dark mystery with horrifying conclusions shown here, Glass has the potential to be a powerful force in the horror genre.