Saint Maud, writer-director Rose Glass’ debut feature film, is a fascinating, at times frustrating meditation on faith, mental illness, loneliness, and connection. The story centers on a young live-in hospice nurse who calls herself Maud (Morfydd Clark) and has taken on a new patient, Amanda (Jennifer Ehle), a former dancer and choreographer with Stage 4 lymphoma. Maud has recently devoted herself to her own idea of Christianity after some unspecified trauma, and her commitment to her faith is absolute. So when Amanda, who is still clinging to more earthly delights, shows an interest in Maud’s piety and refers to her as her savior, it’s more than enough for Maud to realize her calling may be bigger than merely caring for the sick and dying.
Maud becomes obsessed with saving Amanda’s soul, and as the movie continues, her pursuit of that goal and her own desire to follow a righteous path take her to dark and disturbing places. The story is deliberately paced, dipping into and out of Maud’s perspective, making for a hallucinatory experience that blurs the line between what’s really happening and what Maud may be imagining. Maud’s experience of God mimics sexual fervor but she also seems to feel that for this pleasure, she owes Him pain, leading to moments of cringe-worthy body horror.
Throughout the film, there are hints about Maud’s past, which are never specific but nod to a terrible incident that caused Maud to leave everything behind, including her job at a hospital, her hedonistic lifestyle, her friends and even her name. Maud has convinced herself that God is all she needs, yet as she demonstrates her religious zeal to Amanda, it becomes clear she still seeks human connection. Maud is an ongoing puzzle whose self-imposed isolation and newfound piety all seem to be a product of something Maud doesn’t want to face directly, and so the film doesn’t either.
Clark does a brilliant job bringing Maud to life in a performance that’s both strikingly vulnerable and completely self-assured. She brings authenticity to Maud’s extreme choices, while also revealing the delicate heart that may have led Maud down this path to begin with. Ehle is equally impressive as Amanda, bringing nuance to a woman who’s confrontation with mortality allows her to be both open to Maud’s religious calling and impatient with her willful blindness to all life has to offer.
Glass’ approach to the story epitomizes the old adage of show, don’t tell. The movie tells us very little, while showing us Maud’s journey in great detail. Is Maud having a psychotic break, has the loneliness driven her mad or is God really guiding her? Saint Maud is too elusive to provide any concrete answers, and this is what makes it both thought-provoking and challenging. It falls to the individual viewer to decide what’s really going on, a quality that may irritate some while further drawing others in. This is all spiked with brief moments of violence, but it’s the psychological horror that really packs a punch. Maud’s journey isn’t especially fun to watch, but it’s satisfyingly intriguing and will stay with you even after the credits have finished rolling.