A24 and “elevated horror”, one of my favorite movie blends. In my mind, the distribution and production company A24 has brought us some of the best horror films of the last decade. Films such as Hereditary, Midsommar, The VVitch, The Lighthouse, Green Room and It Comes at Night are unique in their execution, changing modern perceptions of horror from a campy slockfest to borderline arthouse. While the films vary in subject matter and design, I’m always incredibly excited to hear of a new A24 horror movie on the horizon. Way back in the bygone year of 2019, I was ecstatic to hear of Saint Maud, A24’s newest horror film. Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival in September of that year, I assumed I wouldn’t have to wait long to view it myself.
Well, here we are in 2021. Despite the film barely being available in the US, I finally managed to get my eyes on it.
Needless to say, COVID has really screwed up film release schedules. However, Saint Maud truly seemed to be an exceptionally extreme case. Although it premiered in the later-half of 2019, the film didn’t see a release of any kind until October 2020, where it had a limited release in the UK. Us Americans had to wait until 2021 crawled out from the wreckage that was the previous year to finally see it, and even still the film had a very limited theatrical run and is only now available through a streaming service not many people use. The insane wait for this film has inadvertently hyped my expectations. Surely a film I’d be waiting to see for well over a year couldn’t possibly live up to the anticipation, right?
Right, but its still a good movie.
Saint Maud tells the story of a lonely hospice worker named Maud. Traumatized after an incident led to the death of a patient in her care, Maud has found comfort and redemption through Christianity. Believing the grief she experienced to be part of a higher plan that God has in store for her, Maud does what she can to honor her master. Now beginning private care for a dying retired dancer named Amanda, Maud is determined to save her soul through any means necessary.
Directed by newcomer Rose Glass, Saint Maud continues A24’s tradition of distributing horror films that aim to tell a story with depth that utilizes building tension and uneasiness rather than jump scares. At first glance, the film appears to be a commentary on the dangerous nature of religious fanaticism. However, upon deeper inspection, I realize the film isn’t really about religion, even if Christianity is at the forefront of the story. What the film is really about is loneliness, sickness of both the body and mind, and the desperate desire to believe that everything we do and experience is a part of something meaningful. While I’m sure there’s plenty to discuss on the grounds of how religion is presented in the film, it’s not exactly on the firing squad like I expected.
Leading the film is Morfydd Clark as Maud. Quiet and zealous in her newfound religion, Maud is our unreliable protagonist that experiences paranormal and sometimes sexual phenomenons while doing God’s work. We’re left to wonder if what Maud experiences is truly divine intervention or something a little more psychoanalytical. Overwhelming feelings of pleasure, body contortions and the voice of the Lord himself all find their way into Maud’s life, leaving her to wrestle with her purpose in the grand scheme. Clark does a terrific job portraying this lost and damaged human, someone who’s motives are questionable but come from a genuine desire to redeem herself. From the very first scene we know Maud has some issues, but how much of her grief is warranted is up for interpretation. New to the whole religion thing, Maud seems to latch onto the aesthetic under the guise of being a staunch practicer. Despite her prude nature, we can clearly see she is not as devout as she claims to be. Still, she dons the robes and presses her palms together because she’s desperate. She needs her newfound devotion to be true. If it’s not, then what was all the pain she endured for? Unable to accept the randomness of our harsh reality, Maud is drawn towards religion as a guideline for her life. The end result is an intense teetering between actual redemption and dangerous zealotry.
Rarely in your face, Saint Maud has a foreboding dread surrounding it. From the beginning we know bad things have happened, and we’re left to wonder just how bad it’s going to get. The film is constantly building upon that dread, with a final culmination in the last 10-15 minutes. Because of this, the film lacks much horror for a good chunk of the story. It dabbles in the uncomfortable with suspicious “signs from God” and minor body mutilation, but the film is fully invested in its uneasy atmosphere. While not overtly scary, it still remains unnerving thanks to clever editing choices and very minor special effects. When Maud “experiences” the Lord within her, her mouth stretches open just a bit farther than humanly possible. It’s so subtle, but for whatever reason this has been a trope that has always made my skin crawl. Additionally, the film uses dizzying shots to reflect Maud’s own inner turmoil. Whether it be scenes completely upside down or framing that turns a skinny stairwell into a slowly rotating keyhole, the film more than makes up for its lack of scares with its disorientating visuals. To top it off, the soundtrack is so beautifully menacing. Sounding almost like the musical love child of Hereditary and The Lighthouse, the music implores spine-chilling strings with echoing bass that will keep you rattled throughout the runtime.
Clocking in just under 90 minutes, Saint Maud is noticeably short compared to other films in the elevated horror genre. Thankfully, the short runtime assists the film in its lack of horror by eventually building to the scares at a reasonable pace before ending. The payoff isn’t as interesting or exciting as I’d hoped, and I’m sure many will be left anticipating more. It doesn’t help that the film gets fairly predictable near the tail-end. Yet I can’t fault the film in its ending, as it’s both beautiful and disturbing. It left me with a knot in my stomach, and it’s by far the most visceral part of the film. While the ending may solidify what kind of interpretation you should have on the events, ruling out much of the mystery, the impact it leaves on you can’t be understated.
Despite not being the game changer I unfairly expected it to be, Saint Maud is sure to please most elevated horror fans with its haunting visuals and tense atmosphere. While not particularly terrifying in the traditional sense, its last few minutes should stick with you well after the credits roll. I don’t see it winning over any new fans who don’t already enjoy this particular brand of horror, as it lacks many modern horror conventions that even films like Hereditary and Get Out managed to utilize despite having a story with a bit of depth. I’m just happy to have finally seen it.
Praise be to the Lord for gifting us with gin! While Maud might have to abstain from a drink like this, there’s no reason we can’t enjoy a good drink while watching her life spiral out of control, right? For this cocktail, we use a blend of fruits and holy rosemary to create this delicious spin on a gin fizz. Don’t forget that egg white, as it’ll make the drink frothy and creamy! If you start to see little tornados in your drink, it may not be a sign from God, but you might want to switch to water (not of the holy variety).
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup cranberries
- Rosemary sprigs
- 2oz gin
- 1oz whipping cream
- 1 egg white
- 3/4oz rosemary syrup
- 1/2oz lemon juice
- 1/2oz lime juice
- Garnish: Rosemary sprig
- In a medium suacepan, add water and sugar over medium heat.
- Stir until sugar dissolves.
- Add cranberries and rosemary.
- Let boil until cranberries are about to burst, then drop heat to low.
- Let simmer for 10 minutes, then remove from heat.
- Strain and allow to cool.
- Fill cocktail shaker with ingredients and dry shake to emulsify egg for 20 seconds.
- Add ice to shaker and briefly shake to chill.
- Strain into cocktail glass.
- Garnish with rosemary.