Audiences have had to wait a long time to see Saint Maud. Rose Glass’ psychological horror first premiered at TIFF in 2019, then ran the 2020 festival circuit before COVID-19 dashed any hopes for the film’s theatrical release. Now it is finally dropping digitally and on-demand, where it’s sure to find an audience eager for some genuine scares.
Saint Maud marks writer and director Glass’ feature film debut and she expertly delivers a horror with its fair share of both psychological dread and jump scares. The film follows the pious Maud (Morfyyd Clark), a home care nurse on a mission from God to save the soul of her hospice patient, Amanda (Jennifer Ehle). A one-time celebrated dancer, Amanda’s once-lithe body has been ravaged by stage 4 lymphoma but it has yet to attack her sharp tongue and mind. Much to Maud’s disapproval, Amanda lives out her final days by having a romantic fling and drinking to excess, very much preparing to go out with a bang. With her charge’s hedonistic ways playing out in the other room, Maud has convinced herself her true purpose is to turn Amanda to God and to save her from herself.
The story unfolds solely within Maud’s purview and, as she is haunted by flashbacks and rapturous seizures, we discover the devout nurse is not all that she seems. It’s clear Glass was influenced by films like Carrie and Taxi Driver (and much more subtly than say, Todd Phillips) as the film feels like a psychodrama at times and a study on loneliness at others. Like the anti-heroes at the centre of those classics, Maud is an isolated woman on the fringes of society. She finds comfort, not in others, but through communing with God and studying a book of William Blake’s religious illustrations that Amanda has gifted her, having dedicated it to her “guardian angel”.
But let’s not forget that Saint Maud is first and foremost a horror movie. Despite a plot that sounds like a religious character study, Maud comes at you with terror from both the supernatural and physical realms. It is truly scary.
Two excellent central performances sell the film’s more haunting moments, with both Clark and Ehle embodying their characters with brilliant grace and ease. Maud’s true personality is revealed like an onion, as Clark peels back layers from her pious exterior with careful control. And Ehle is dazzling as Amanda—a complex role that allows the gifted but oft-underrated actress to truly shine.
While Saint Maud doesn’t escape all the trappings of genre and religious-based horror clichés, the more familiar ideas seem filled with new life thanks to Glass’ direction, Ben Fordesman’s stunning cinematography, and unnerving sound design by Paul Davies.
By the time Saint Maud comes to its shocking conclusion, it may leave viewers with more questions than answers. But that’s fine because this is a film that just begs to be scrutinized, discussed and rewatched over and over.
Available on digital and on-demand Feb. 12, Saint Maud is a must-see.