Hooptober 9.0 – Saint Maud (2019)

Being Film #16 for Hooptober 2022

Sometimes true horror doesn’t have to come from the situation; it’s just as able to cast its baleful eye on you purely from the execution. David Lynch knows this, which is why he’s able to evoke so much dread in a diner scene in Mulholland Drive. Rose Glass seems to have taken this to heart, because her feature debut Saint Maud is terrifying from its opening moments, not so much for its content but rather how she is able to through her camera and sound inject dread and tension into every single frame. Taking Christian iconography and tenets of the Catholic faith as more than simple shortcuts, Glass has created a cutting, horrific view of how we twist and shape our belief to our own, often detrimental ends.

THE QUICK SUMMARY: After a traumatizing death in a hospital, Maud has become a devout Catholic, being called upon for a higher purpose she has yet to find. Now a private nurse, she takes over the care of Amanda Köhl, a former dancer in the late stages of cancer. Through self-inflicted pain and prayer, Maud determines her role is to save the soul of Amanda. But Amanda has other ideas, and just what happened in Maud’s past to put her on this path, and where will it end? Is she truly hearing the will of God, or simply insane? Saint Maud certainly knows which way she leans, and she’ll make sure you do, too…

Glass has a keen eye for details, and the way she paints the way Maud (an astounding Morfydd Clark) views the world is stunning, with closeups of objects and perspectives that always leave the viewer feeling slightly off balance. Her handling of religion is likewise both dedicated and pointed: there’s certainly tension in Maud’s fixation on her crucifixes, or the way she folds her hands in prayer after flipping through the pages of a book on the art of William Blake. But there’s more to it than that. Rose keep a fine balance in criticizing religion as a whole but also using Maud’s very fast and very devout conversion as an obvious crutch, one that speaks more of convenience (in this case to hide away from her past) than any real study of the faith.

In that way there are parallels to the lies we tell ourselves, convinced it is the gospel truth. Whether it’s the blind fact that certainly God has something special in mind for Maud (lacking in the humility that ones typically gets having spent any time in church or religious education) or the blind belief that OF COURSE the COVID vaccine is just a way for the government to control us, what Glass shows us through Maud’s devotion to her insane cause is how strong we will our convictions into belief in order not to feel safe, or strong, or good, or just…

But like I said in my review of His House, it’s all fine and dandy to have lofty themes and meaning in your film, but if you can’t make it scary, well…what’s the point? Saint Maud has no problems on that score: it is sublimely dreadful from its opening moments to its bug nuts conclusion. The film is gorgeously shot and sound designed to the nines, another comparison to the way Lynch works. Clark’s work as Maud is just astonishing – you can’t take your eyes off her whenever she’s on screen – and when paired with Jennifer Ehle as Amanda the two are a force of nature. The way Amanda brings Maud into her world is that of a cat playing with its (last) meal, and their conflict at the end is startling in the way Glass structures it, but even without the histrionics I won’t spoil here it would have been just as effective.

Put all of that with one of the best endings I’ve seen in a film in some time (that final shot, brief as it was, speaks volumes toward Glass’s intent), and Saint Maud is a sumptuous feast no matter if you’re looking for straight horror or something meatier to chew on. It’s a film to talk about, and hopefully just a taste of what Rose Glass has to offer in the future.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: