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Review: Saint Maud (2021)

Saint Maud (2021)

Directed by: Rose Glass

Premise: A young woman (Morfydd Clark) who has recently found religion works as a live-in nurse to a terminally ill patient (Jennifer Ehle). The nurse’s devotion to her newfound faith takes a fanatical turn.

What Works: Saint Maud eludes easy description. It’s partly a spiritual meditation and partly a psychological horror film. The title character is a recent convert to religion and she has bouts of religious passion that might be a psychological delusion or might be a genuine spiritual experience. While the film leans toward the former explanation it also entertains the latter and the ambiguity is effectively maintained throughout the picture. That ambiguity is aided by the filmmaker’s regard for Maud’s spirituality. Regardless of whether she is mentally ill or in touch with a higher power, the filmmakers don’t treat Maud as a loon and other character’s derision comes across hurtful. The filmmakers portray Maud’s predicament with a great deal of empathy and Saint Maud possesses a vivid spiritual anguish akin to First Reformed and Silence. Maud’s interior struggle is conveyed viscerally through the filmmaking. Saint Maud uses sound very effectively, manipulating the volume to convey Maud’s state of mind, and the lighting and imagery echo portraits of saints and other religious figures. The title character of Saint Maud is played by Morfydd Clark and the actress plays our sympathies quite well. Maud is in trouble and looking for help and Clark’s vulnerability makes her empathetic. But Saint Maud is also about the way piety can be a latent form of narcissism. This is a sophisticated take on religion and spirituality that effectively visualizes and dramatizes the conflict between spiritual and carnal desires.

What Doesn’t: Saint Maud includes narration by the title character in which she explains her feelings and ponders her spirituality. The film isn’t much better for it. The narration is appropriately poetic but it doesn’t contribute much to the movie. The more cinematic elements of the film such as its manipulation of sound and the quiet images of Maud in contemplation do a better job of conveying her spiritual struggle. Saint Maud does not entirely explain the trauma that led to her spiritual conversion. Hints are provided but the picture never gives us adequate exposition about Maud’s background. The filmmakers don’t have to do that but the background information might have given a fuller sense of Maud’s spiritual devotion.

Bottom Line: Saint Maud is a spiritual horror film. It contemplates difficult matters of faith and reality and does so in ways that are dramatically compelling and very thoughtful.

Episode: #860 (July 18, 2021)