Having failed to save the life of a patient under the care, Katie (Morfydd Clark) succumbs into a dreadful stage of depression. She resorts to Roman Catholicism as a means of coping and begins to call herself Maud in the process. As she becomes a pious believer, she starts to find her confidence back and enrolls in a palliative nurse care program where she’s tasked to look after a terminally ill patient, Amanda (Jennifer Ehle)—an atheist choreographer from the US. That’s where Saint Maud takes a sharp turn from an observation of faith and depression into a hybrid of body horror with psychological thriller answering to some hurtful stigma about depressions.
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Amidst religious communities, there’s a mental health stigma associating depression with the lack of faith. Depression is said to be the result of navigating away from God and it becomes some kind of divine punishment. Rose Glass in her directorial debut deconstructs the stigma and reassemble them back into an unnerving psychological horror that creeps the hell out of religious aspects and bravely shoves the terror back to whoever endorsing the stigma. It’s a bold yet moody work that becomes more uncomfortable to watch as it begins to get closer to Glass‘s perceived reality. Her biggest question is: if God is at work, will there be any place for the devil? If light shines through, will darkness prevail?
Saint Maud is an unapologetic character study about an individual coping with traumatic experience in solitude. On her most fragile state, Katie/Maud isolates herself from people and seeks solace under the light of God. She, like many other devout Christians, believes in never wasting away any pain as it might be an instrument to fulfill God’s plan. She uses the pain lingering from her failure to save her patient as a means of spiritual self-flagellation; additionally, she also inflicts self-pain as a form of penance in the films’ most disturbing scenes. Her encounter with Amanda brings about an untimely redemption that gives way to the earlier questions. Two lonesome people bond in an unusually ideal moment; one is unaware of her deteriorating mind as she’s looking to atone the past, while the other is lost in fear of the oblivion after death. However, Maud becomes disillusioned with her spiritual cause to save Amanda’s non-believing soul from the hellfire. It’s ironic but Glass‘s vision makes this irony a blazing showcase of faith crisis on the wheel.
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In unraveling the story, Glass who also writes the script takes all the time she has to make the protagonist’s journey a full cycle. The titular character is given time to internalize his mission and her part in what she believes to be the fulfillment of God’s plan. The placing pacing gives way for the script to sympathize to the character and gradually reveal what could’ve been wrong in the process; but, at the same time, it also delves into Maud’s psyche and let the audiences have a sip of how she thinks in certain situation. The film inarguably has its harrowing, blatant moment that makes people look away for a second and come back for more. However, it’s not a full-frontal gothic horror with knacks for jump-scares and endless apparitions; its atmospheric terror finds a way to get into your head and only by the time the film ends, the horror of it will linger.
Maud and her wickedly dependent relationship with God is a provocative premise. Glass makes the experience more painful to watch as she incorporates a parallel vision of psychological trauma with a rare deliverance of faith-possessed terror. It’s as if Saint Maud is telling the audiences to not looking for God in the dark since, in the absence of light, darkness prevails. It’s sympathetically capture the mental illness for a healthy debate about the stigma and how religious communities can help endorsing a more supportive, non-judgmental care for the mentally ills. Delivered in an excruciating pace, striking visuals, and breakthrough performance by Clark, the discourse becomes bone-chilling with a promised, pounding after-taste.