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Saint Maud Review: A Chilling, Haunting Exploration Of Trauma And Religion

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Using the elements of horror to explore trauma and its effects on the mind and body is what makes psychological horror films so potent. While many films take the usual approach when combining horror and religion — exorcisms, possessions, and dealings with the devil — Saint Maud examines the titular character’s relationship with religion through the lens of her painful past. Masterfully written and directed, Saint Maud is a captivating, compelling, and disquieting horror film that is distinct and incredibly intense.

After a traumatic incident at work, Katie rechristens herself as Maud (Morfydd Clark) and leaves her job and life behind to become a devout Roman Catholic. She becomes a private palliative nurse for the terminally ill Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a famous former dancer and choreographer. An atheist, Amanda fears death and confesses as much to Maud, who likewise admits that she can see and hear God all around her. Maud is pious to the point of pain, attempting to strengthen her relationship as a servant of God through unnerving acts. While in correspondence with the almighty, Maud comes to believe that God wants her to save Amanda’s soul before she dies and her attempts become increasingly desperate and simultaneously unflinching.

Saint Maud is a strong feature film debut for writer-director Rose Glass, whose ability to combine psychological horror with the perverse fanaticism of Maud is masterful. As the story unfolds, the reasons for Maud’s behavior comes into sharper focus, but what Glass does so well is maintain an ambiguity regarding her relationship with God. It’s never quite clear whether Maud is truly seeing and hearing God or if she’s hallucinating the entire experience. There are moments of sheer terror that even suggest she’s somehow been possessed. The film blatantly blurs the lines of reality, which makes for a chilling visual experience.

As the story unravels, so does Maud and the result is a deeply disturbing and downright unsettling character study of how trauma paves the way for her to seek out religion and God as a way toward redemption and forgiveness. Maud redefines herself, deeply haunted by the incident at work. While she fashions herself a newly devout woman, Saint Maud isn’t preaching about religion or even about what’s right or wrong. As an avenue for psychological exploration, however, the film works on many levels.

Maud and Amanda’s relationship is rife with tension. They’re united by their shared loneliness and separated by their contrasting beliefs. Ehle plays Amanda with a deep sense of bitterness and disdain for the hand she’s been dealt. She’s sharp and seemingly entertained by the idea of God’s existence, which pits her against Maud in thrilling ways. Saint Maud also examines the characters’ opposing ideologies and how they connect and juxtapose when it comes to death. Morfydd is incredible as Maud, portraying her with self-righteous confidence, simmering frustration, and insecurity all at once. Through her performance, it’s never clear when Maud will snap. She’s controlled and calculating, but also unsteady and desolate. There’s a deep sense of foreboding throughout that makes Morfydd’s portrayal all the more impressive to witness.

Ben Fordesman’s cinematography is beautiful. The scenes between Amanda and Maud stand out in particular, with the dimmed lighting creating an enveloping darkness that lurks and hovers, inching ever closer. It complements and heightens the often oppressive atmosphere of the film, which lends itself to the intensity and the disconcerting horror of the finale. Glass’ film isn’t filled with too many obvious scares, which would have honestly done a disservice to the narrative. Rather, the horror lies in the visceral fear, ambiguity, and psychological elements, all of which elevate Saint Maud and work together to create a sensory infused film that is equally satisfying and haunting.

Saint Maud is playing in select theaters and drive-ins beginning January 29 and will be released exclusively on Epix on February 12. The film is 84 minutes long and is rated R for disturbing and violent content, sexual content and language.
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