Forgive Me Father, For I Have Sinned
Saint Maud is not a horror movie. It’s not a particularly scary film and there’s certainly no jump scares here either. Going into this one expecting a conventional chill-fest will almost certainly leave you disappointed.
Instead, Saint Maud plays out as a slow-burn psychological thriller, taking ideas from many different movies and turning that into a patchwork draped around the shoulders of our heavily religious protagonist.
In its simplest form, Saint Maud is a film about loneliness and in particular, the differing mental states one can go through while experiencing this. Taking up the central role of this moody picture is Maud, a nurse who has recently converted to Catholicism and begins caring for a woman named Amanda.
After seemingly sharing the same ideas, cracks begin to form in their ideologies which eventually grows into an unholy chasm from which there’s no escape. Maud’s spirituality eventually clashes against Amanda’s care-free persona, with Maud doing her best to “save” Amanda from her sins while she dabbles in drugs, drink and sexual pleasures.
These two opposite characters eventually crescendo into a messy and dramatic development during the middle act, turning the film on a dime and descending into thriller territory. I won’t spoil what happens but suffice to say Maud’s behaviour builds to a pretty shocking climax, complete with one of the best endings to a film like this seen in quite some time.
Saint Maud is one of those films that will almost certainly do better with critics than audiences. On the surface, Saint Maud is a painfully simple story about a woman who gets lost in her own religious ideologies, becoming ever more isolated and alone.
Where this film excels though is in its deep layers of meaning hidden within this story. In that respect, Saint Maud actually works a lot better when you take it as a character study rather than a spooky horror.
A lot of the reason this film works as well as it does comes down to Morfydd Clark’s performance. She is mesmerizing as this haunted and conflicted nurse, chiming in with pockets of narration outside the main plot to reflect her own feelings on the changing world around her.
While the story isn’t quite horror material, the audio design certainly is. Aside from an overuse of the dreaded “BWOMP” sound from Inception, the unsettling, minor key string segments work to keep you glued right to the very end.
Saint Maud is a really cleverly directed picture too, made even more impressive by the fact it’s a debut movie for Rose Glass. Glass keeps a tight focus on Maud for the entire duration of the movie, peppering in some stylish shots to keep things visually stimulating.
The result is a film that instantly makes us feel closer to Maud, experiencing the thin slivers of nightmare fuel that eat away at her mind. The more unsettling images however, are those that lean into the aforementioned ideas in the movie surrounding loneliness and belonging.
Several times we cut to Maud passing Coney Island arcade or alone in a café or bar full of people. Every time she tries to engage with others, Maud struggles to do so. There’s a scene here where Maud tries to engage with a table full of people adjacent to hers by laughing; a futile, alienating reaction that she suddenly becomes self-aware of and pulls back. By then, it’s too late and Maud is alone again.
This loneliness ultimately manifests itself in strange and harmful ways, asking big questions around the role of religion in one’s life and whether it can be a curse or a blessing. In a way, the film actually holds quite a few similarities to Servant, the Apple TV+ Original that plays with similar ideas. Unlike that drawn out mystery box however, what we’re given here is far more direct and mysterious.
Saint Maud leans into the rich history of religion too, with lots of images and mention of angels along with hidden details or props tucked away that are only revealed by re-watching certain scenes multiple times.
Unfortunately Saint Maud will almost certainly garner a polarizing reaction from audiences. With many critics heralding this as a masterpiece and an incredible feat of horror, many people will go into this expecting a genuinely scary film and leave disappointed.
That’s a real shame because if you can go into this one blind and expect a horrific thriller rather than a thrilling horror, there’s a good pay-off here that will genuinely unnerve you and leave you thinking about this one long after the credits roll.