Saint Maud isn’t the kind of film you watch passively, or while you’re distracted. It requires that you see and hear everything, right up to its devastating final seconds.
DIRECTOR: Rose Glass
A stunning debut for director Rose Glass, and a final shot that will haunt you.
The film opens on a horrific scene, in which a nurse (Morfydd Clark) sits stunned across from a patient’s bloody body. We’re more formally introduced after she’s changed her name to Maud and become singularly devoted to God.
Director and writer Rose Glass’ debut feature is set in a bleak English seaside town, a dampness seeping into the 84-minute film. Maud, now a private nurse, puts her newfound devotion to work with patient Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a former dancer who’s in the terminal stage of cancer but still holds on to her vices. A book on Amanda’s shelf called The Body Is a Stage is not-so-subtle foreshadowing: Maud’s faith is being tested; Amanda has one last performance in her.
The interplay between the two women is really the meat of the film. Amanda is bored and cruel, but she’s intrigued by Maud’s performance of piety. Maud’s faith amuses her and leads to territorial fights with Amanda’s lover, Carol (Lily Frazer). Unfortunately, Maud’s sexuality isn’t explored much deeper. Instead, she fixates on religious imagery—a gifted book of William Blake paintings sparks something—and austerity. (Her studio apartment looks like a jail cell.) We never see Maud go to church; we do see her DIY altar. The true depths—or origins—of her faith are kept from the audience. While Catholicism is certainly built around atoning for guilt and shame, Maud’s rituals seem a little more ancient in shape and form.
Glass deftly uses foreground and background to disorient, and Clark’s face as the stage, zooming in so close that her eyes often appear black. Cinematographer Ben Fordesman gives the film its deep palette—a birthday party scene looks like a Baroque painting. It’s also the film’s turning point.
While Maud’s unraveling is its own set piece, the film needs more of something—maybe the Amanda-Maud scenes, or at least some of their dark comedy. Maud feels half-sketched: We see one concerned friend from her past, and a sexual encounter offers a little more context, but Glass obviously wants us to see this version. Being trapped in Maud’s POV is oppressive and disorienting, and that’s the point.
Saint Maud was pushed back twice last year due to the pandemic, after debuting at film festivals in 2019. It's being positioned for awards season, no doubt, and its performances merit nominations. But its questions about religious fanaticism and mental health linger long after that final shot.
Saint Maud is available to stream on Epix and VOD starting Feb. 12.