In their 4 Bloody Knife review, E.L. King calls Saint Maud a portrait of mental illness and devout delusion leading to a terrifying confrontation of faith, morality and martyrdom taking psychological horror to a new level.
This psychological horror film follows Maud, a reclusive young nurse whose impressionable demeanor causes her to pursue a pious path of Christian devotion after an obscure trauma hidden just under the surface likely in a mountain of subtext that the audience will never quite grasp. She’s charged with the hospice care of Amanda, a retired dancer ravaged by cancer who is also fluid in her sexuality. Maud’s fervent faith quickly inspires an obsessive conviction that she must save her Amanda’s soul from eternal damnation, whatever the cost.
Saint Maud is a portrait of mental illness and devout delusion leading to a terrifying confrontation of faith, morality and martyrdom taking psychological horror to a new level. Maud experiences a clear descent into madness, exposing the thin veil and masks we wear when our minds are afflicted. That experience is both isolating and horrifying. Maud experiences delusions of both extreme pleasure when she believes that a higher power approves of her deeds and intense fear when the feeling is gone, believing a sinister force is determined to prevent her from achieving her goals. I haven’t seen religious obsession this terrifying since Margaret White in the 1976 horror masterpiece, Carrie.
We the audience experience everything through Maud’s perspective and while she appears to be somewhat meek and the intense passion and believe in her faith magnifies, she begins to loose her grasp on reality. This manifests itself through delusions that can only be described as orgasmic in moments she believes she’s in communion with God. Maud describes the response she receives to prayer as being physical, “It’s like he’s physically in me.” It’s probably the most erotic thing you’ll see in a horror film where the character(s) are fully clothed.
"It's like he's physically in me."
Amanda is a queer character and she’s paying a gorgeous party girl, Carol to be with her as a way of avoiding her inevitable mortality. I don’t believe that Maud has religious objections with regards to Amanda’s lesbianism, but I got the sense that Maud is a queer-coded character and was perhaps jealous of Amanda bestowing her attention and affection on Carol. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Maud is a queer leaning character, but a scene in which she experiences a delusional orgasm with Amanda pointed me to that subtext. Maud’s real issue with the relationship between Amanda and Carol is that it’s disruptive to her patient’s path to redemption in the eyes of God. The film is brimming with queer representation and I love it for that.
Saint Maud is not a gore filled thrill ride, but you will find some light body horror as it subtly builds suspense all leading up to several horrifying conclusions. Maud’s mantra is to “never waste your pain,” and this unnervingly brilliant line is utterly terrifying. The line itself made me nostalgic for Clive Barker’s 1987 supernatural horror Hellraiser and another great line in a similar vein spoken by Pinhead, “No tears, please. It’s a waste of good suffering.”
"Never waste your pain."
The true mastery of the film is it’s psychological horror and the erosion of Maud’s mind. Maud played by Morfydd Clarke (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Crawl) gives us a convincing portrayal of a young woman who believes she is a martyr and vessel for God’s judgement. While Jennifer Ehle (Zero Dark Thirty) plays Amanda, the temptress reigning over the Garden of Eden and unwilling to give up her forbidden fruit to follow a righteous path. A female led cast is always a refreshing thing to see in horror.
Saint Maud is well crafted, acted, written and directed. It’s quite scary and original. There are some lingering things about Maud I wish I knew more about, but alas the film ends and I’m left questioning. However, there is something intriguing about a film that leaves me wanting more. That sparks my curiosity and leaves me pondering it for hours after the credits have rolled. It’s a brilliant debut film from writer-director Rose Glass and an absolutely mesmerizing and unnerving work of horror cinema from start to finish.
Now playing on Hulu.