A slow burn of mounting dread is this example of religious-based-based or psychological horror that rivals the acclaimed Promising Young Woman in eerie stylishness.
Saint Maud stars Morfydd Clark and Jennifer Ehle in what may be akin to the recent First Reformed and the mid-1960s Repulsion in its raw contortions around piety and radicalization.
For certain it’s an auspicious debut for Irish writer/director Rose Glass (like Emerald Fennell with Woman) fueled by obscure trauma.
A foreboding tone is felt throughout what could be a take off from a 10th Century charitable (if squandering) German queen whose name is ado[ted bu Clark’s Kate who becomes much more spiritually enlightened after leaving her nursing position at a local hospital.
The narrative (with lurid flashbacks surrounding her departure) thus follows her dangerous obsession with saving a soul of Amanda (Ehle) a middle-aged hospice patient formerly a renowned dancer/choreographer.
It can be misleading what Glass is going for as the dynamic of a palliative health care figure and an elegant, if hedonistic cynic gravitates at a sprawling estate where tenuousness around sanity is buffered at times by the deadpan. Nevertheless, the interplay between Clark and Ehle has a rich selling point that both embrace through reckless, jealous tendencies.
The pursuit of a devout Christian life of a reclusive woman spirals into stigmata with a very rickety line being towed. Even for some venturesome viewers aspects of sadomasochism on display may be in a word, troubling. As nails, corn kernels, and thorns enter the skin in this kind of extremism.
Saint Maud doesn’t rely too much on backup performances through Lily Frazer’s unrestrained lover in Carol does provide an impetus. When it comes to a return to more secular pleasures — alcohol, drugs and casual sex.
The filmmaking leads to a shattering finish that may not offer much or enough closure as the intuition into alienation and aloneness is evident in a committed Clark through an awakening. From iconography into submission and spite a taut gloominess of an intimate conversion and breakdown vividly prevails.