One of the finest and easiest targets of horror is to include religion or some sort of belief system, much like a cult with very rigid views and preaching. Those who are religious, devout, pious or simply have faith are either pictured as weak, dangerous or a sanctuary, although the latter is rare in the horror genre. But for Saint Maud it isn’t the fact that Maud herself is religious or that her beliefs closes her mind to how others think and act, it is her blind faith and complete reliance on God speaking to her and through her that is to be feared.
Maud, a private healthcare nurse, who has newly found religion is assigned a new client, the terminally ill, ex-dancer Amanda. She witnesses and judges Amanda’s drinking and sexual escapades, she believes she was sent there to save her soul tries to connect with her by including her in prayers and telling her how she can sometimes feel God’s presence. But after over stepping her duties, Maud finds herself fired and questioning her faith, trying to understand her purpose with demonic and devastating visions.
At first the story seems to be about Maud and Amanda and how the former believes she can save the latter from eternal damnation but in fact, this is just part of the story of Maud’s journey to how she found faith, what she did and how she came to such a dramatic final end. As Maud experiences God speaking to her, her face distorts as she writhes on the floor in slow motion and even levitates completely. Some have interpreted this as being epilepsy and although that is an interesting way to look these moments and links in with Maud’s experiences, I think there is something more demonic taking place. Where Maud thinks she’s communicating with God, she expresses frustration that God has no answered her and won’t explain his plan for her. But when the cockroach that is seen in her flat talks to her, it isn’t God. Or at least, doesn’t seem as it is. There is another presence that has latched onto her since her traumatic experience in the hospital at her previous job, which is hinted at and alluded to but never fully explained. We are left to assume certain things about Maud, especially when we find out from an old colleague, out of the blue that her name is also Katie. Maud immediately becomes untrustworthy and her spiralling out of control when she lets her hair down, has a drink, gives a guy a hand job then later has sex with another random guy after spilling his drink, this is Katie. The other self she didn’t like so she created Maud, the religious Maud. So instead of finding God, Maud or Katie finds a demon that has manifested itself from her actions. This is why I don’t just think it could be an interpretation of epilepsy. This is in the supernatural realm, where religious symbolism thrives.
There are quite a few shocking images throughout the film and not the visions of terror. Maud calmly putting drawing pins into her shoes so she pays penance for actions is nothing short of visceral. Her other acts of violence against herself are far more sinister than her crazed attack/defence of the demon Amanda reveals herself to be. They are calculated, coupled with Morfydd Clark who plays Maud’s innocence face creates such an uncomfortable image on screen, its near genius level casting and directing all in a scene. Clark is able to switch from timid, quiet and vigilant pious Maud to the sexually free and fearless Maud (or is this Katie) within a few scenes. Of course, the ending is literally what shocks the most both because you don’t see it coming and because you always knew that something like this would happen the minute, she fashions her bedsheets into robes.
Writer and director Rose Glass has tapped into a story and character of immense depth of serene terror that rivals many films featuring religious fanatics before her. She’s found the balance of thriller and horror and only uses one jump scare at just the right time but still manages to really chill us to the bone. Saint Maud is coming to save us and the British horror.