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John’s Horror Corner: Saint Maud (2019), a British religious horror that is more intriguing drama than horror.

February 16, 2022

MY CALL:  Patient, quiet, and rich with human frailty, this A24 film plays out like its peers. The relationships are heavy and intriguing, the horror is limited largely to a powerful climactic revelation, and then it’s over and you feel a deep morose emptiness.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Saint Maud: Hmmm… I’m thinking The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015). For more ‘caretaker horror’ I’d recommend The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014), Relic (2020) or The Skeleton Key (2005).

Recently assuming her in-home nurse and caretaker duties, Maud (Morfydd Clark; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Crawl) is tasked with caring for the terminally ill Amanda (Jennifer Ehle; John and the Hole). The two couldn’t be more opposite. Praying before dinner alone in her meager studio kitchen, Maud routinely overshares the tedium of her life with God and narrates her daily perspective to Him. A now wheelchair-bound former dancer and choreographer, Amanda is a thoughtfully inquisitive yet critical woman who cares little for whoever may be caught in her chain-smoking, indulgent wake. But perhaps she’s warming to Maud…

The drama of their developing relationship creates more tension and intrigue than any sense of horror or dread, which is more scarce than I expected or hoped. Maud ponders how Amanda ever ended up where she did, in a small simple boring town. Skeptically agnostic, Amanda wonders about Maud’s relationship with God, as Maud comforts her that God sees her and waits for her.

Maud is a curious one, mildly alarming in her piousness and quite certain that she is God’s Chosen to save Amanda’s soul. It’s as if Maud is falling in love with the idea of saving Amanda… perhaps even to obsessive infatuated degree. The imagery occasionally tiptoes the boundary between possession and rapture as Maud engages in self-castigation to reach closer to God, and God reaches back.

As A24 films do, this takes its time but does not fail to deliver abruptly shocking, disturbing imagery. Leave it to an A24 film to make me fear a sex scene. The intense, disturbing, effects scenes were admittedly few… until the rug is briefly ripped out from beneath you with violent and emotional intensity in the end. But brief it is. Too brief, I felt.

Probably among the weaker of A24 films in terms of emotional gut punches (e.g., Midsommar, Hereditary), but still a finely crafted film with solid performances and an adequate contribution to religious horror. Writer and director Rose Glass fared well in her first feature film, and we should welcome her future endeavors.

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