*. It’s probably not fair to any movie to want to stick it in a genre box, or compare it to similar movies. But . . . that’s what I like to do.
*. I even like to do it with a lot of the new wave of art-house horror flicks. I appreciate that they’re trying to do something different, but even when successful I’m finding these productions starting to look and even more sound more and more the same. For example, I really liked the score here by Adam Janota Bzowski, but boy the louring base that feels like it’s bottoming out somewhere in the depths of the ocean sounds like a lot of horror movies these days.
*. Anyway, I started off watching Saint Maud and was thinking of the sub-genre of nurse horror (type film Misery, recent example Alleluia). This was when Katie/Maud (Morfydd Clark) takes up a job as a private homecare nurse to the dying Amanda (Jennifer Erle). We sense something isn’t right with Maud, and there are mutterings about how, like Annie in Misery, she has something hidden in her past that caused her to lose her last job. So much for vetting the help. But then, homecare is a desperate market.
*. From there, however, things quickly spin into female breakdown horror (type film Repulsion, recent example Darling). Maud is a newly-minted religious nut — her friend is taken by surprise at the Catholic kitsch she keeps in her room — though we never see her reading or hear her quoting anything from the Bible. She casts an unapproving eye on Amanda’s hedonistic parties and ends up getting fired. But this only makes her more determined to effect Amanda’s redemption.
*. But while I think these are operative genres, writer-director Rose Glass doesn’t lean into them. Apparently Glass originally planned to make Maud more of a Carrie figure, victim of a strict religious upbringing, “but it just felt like a story I’d seen before, and it wasn’t one I was particularly interested in retelling.” So we have to just take her as given.
*. Some people might like this open-endedness, but for me it led to the question of where Maud was coming from. A lot of critics, most notably Mark Kermode, who called this his favourite film of the year, declared that Saint Maud wasn’t a horror movie but a movie about loneliness. Well, sure. Amanda even calls Maud the loneliest girl she’s ever seen. But where did that loneliness come from? She’s young, good-looking, educated, and has no trouble making friends.
*. So what caused her breakdown? A flashback suggests that she failed to save a dying patient when her attempt at CPR didn’t work. But how often does CPR work? And isn’t this a rather fragile response from a nurse? Amanda’s new caregiver has a more realistic attitude toward death: “that’s the way the cookie crumbles.” I get that Maud doesn’t want to accept this, but then she’s in the wrong profession.
*. Accepting that Glass simply isn’t interested in how Maud got here, what is she interested in? I think the answer is faith, which leads me to the movie that Saint Maud most reminded me of: Paul Schrader’s First Reformed. There are obvious resemblances in the levitation scene and the (imagined) act of self-destruction at the end, but more than that there’s a deeper exploration of the consequences of being a believer.
*. Unfortunately for Saint Maud, it doesn’t hold a candle to what Schrader did in developing this theme. Glass settles for a lazier conclusion. Unless I’m missing something, the point here is that faith is a lie and believers are dangerous psychotics. If you hear God talking to you, chances are you’re just listening to voices in your head. A point made pretty clear here because God speaks in Welsh and his voice is actually Clark’s with the pitch lowered.
*. As I say, this is unfortunate. I think Saint Maud is a really good film. Glass sets the mood well and the two leads are great. I was disappointed that Erle didn’t have a larger part, but I can’t say enough about Clark. This is a real career-making role. I was surprised when looking over her filmography to see that she’d been in two previous movies I’d reviewed — Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Crawl — and hadn’t registered at all. Well, maybe not that surprised.
*. Worth seeing, and a movie that can be enjoyed if you forget about some of the hype and don’t think you’re seeing a horror flick or even a particularly taut psychological thriller. On the other hand, if it’s something more, what is it?