Saint Maud is what can be lovingly referred to as an “uh oh” movie. Unlike silly slasher flicks peppered with jump scares and obligatory loud noises, writer/director Rose Glass’s film quietly and relentlessly churns towards the “uh oh” waiting at the end of the story. Fittingly described as a “slow-burn,” this tale of demented piety is also a stark warning about those who actually walk among us doggedly convinced that only they are on the same wavelength as an invisible almighty creator, who may or may not speak fluent Welsh.
Maud (Morfydd Clark) is not actually Maud. She’s Katie, a nurse who did something real gross-creepy-bad to a patient at her last gig. With the power of what she thinks is Jesus and the protection of a changed name, she now cares for Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a former dancer dying of a spinal tumor. As a person promised a slow, torturous death, Amanda has some not nice feelings about God that are in opposition to Maud’s very nice feelings about the holy trinity (wink, wink). Their inevitable collision aims the titular character squarely at the “uh oh” at the end of the upside-down rainbow.
As you’d imagine, the success of Saint Maud is highly dependent upon said Maud. Clark is next-level magnetic and impossibly good at being unspeakably bad. Under Glass’s careful direction, she is never laughably insane or obnoxiously over-the-top. Clark resists going “full Jared Leto” and manages to be oddly, almost disturbingly endearing. From the very first frame, Glass tells you unequivocally that Maud is bad, bad news. Yet, up until the final, much worse frame, you can’t help but root for her to snap out of it.
In the nicest way possible, Saint Maud seems like the type of movie that would have been lambasted and protested by conservative Christian critics in the past. This isn’t to say it gets into any long-winded condemnations of specific practices or beliefs. It just kinda, sorta frames Jesus Christ as something like the bogeyman. Although, to be fair, Glass explicitly reiterates that the evil is coming from inside the house, even confirming in interviews that the voice of “God” is just Clark’s pitched down.
“Is it scary?” is a question A24’s horror movies always seem to be saddled with answering. Like Ari Aster’s Hereditary and Midsommar or It Comes at Night, Saint Maud is more “upsetting” than frightening. Although, a repeated effect where Clark’s mouth seems to gape supernaturally wide that is either CGI or a crazy ability the actress possesses definitely brings the spooky. Still, any debate about whether this “belongs” in the horror genre would be so stupid that someone somewhere on the internet is almost certainly having it.
In some ways, Saint Maud feels like the movie everyone lied and said The VVItch was. It is a meticulously crafted, deliberately paced deconstruction of unholy things done in the name of the Lord. It is anchored by a powerful performance from a talented young actress. It is also a promise of incredible things to come from Glass, who has brought one of the best “uh ohs” in a long, long time.
Grade = A-
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Michelle Kisner at The Movie Sleuth says, “This type of religious character study is usually from a male point-of-view, and it’s refreshing to see a woman director tackle it, put her own spin on concept, and in the end ultimately subvert it.”
Andrew Kendall at Stabroek News says, “We keep watching because the startling concepts feel destined for something bigger that we keep waiting for. It’s not bad filmmaking, it just feels incomplete. “
Alix Turner at Ready Steady Cut says, “Whether it is about mental illness, faith taken to an extreme, or simply a provocative character study (and it could be any or all three), I don’t care: the film is going to stay with me.”