Saint Maud (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): The sobering observation of one disturbing religious mania

“Saint Maud” is a dark and disturbing psychological thriller which will catch you off guard more than once. As mostly sticking to its very disturbed heroine’s warped viewpoint, the movie alternatively chills and fascinates us via a number of intense moments to linger on your mind, and it is also firmly held by its exceptional lead performance which will be remembered as a major breakthrough for the lead performer’s burgeoning career.

Morfydd Clark, a young British performer who previously appeared in a number of notable films including “Love & Friendship” (2016) and “The Personal History of David Copperfield” (2019) during last several years, plays a young nurse named Maud, and the opening part of the film shows and tells us how much she has been devoting herself to her Catholic faith since some traumatic incident in the past. Although she left her former workplace due to that rather unspecified incident, she seems to be ready for her new job as declaring her professional/spiritual devotion to God as well as herself, and we soon see her going to a big house located outside her seaside town.

The house belongs to a middle-aged woman named Amanda Köhl (Jennifer Ehle), who was once a renowned dancer/choreographer but has recently been confined in her current residence due to her terminal illness. Maud’s predecessor warns to Maud in advance that Amanda is not a very nice person, but Maud does not pay much attention to that warning because she is confident that she will take care of her supposedly cantankerous employer as well as she can in addition to providing some spiritual support.

Anyway, to our little surprise, Amanda mildly welcomes her new nurse, and Maud comes to observe more of her employer as handling many things for Amanda including daily injection of several different medicines. While well aware of the fact that she does not have many days to live, Amanda does not hesitate at all in front of any chance to enjoy her shortening life, and she does not even mind drinking and some sexual pleasure despite her worsening medical condition.

However, Amanda also often feels quite bitter and morose about her impending death, and Maud is certainly willing to help and support her employer in her own spiritual way. At one point, she earnestly talks about how she often listens to the words of God spoken only to her, and Amanda seems to be genuinely interested in being spiritually saved by Maud. She subsequently joins Maud’s unorthodox religious activities, and, as she looks like getting a bit better than before, she gives Maud a book on those famous religious paintings by William Blake for showing her some gratitude.

However, their seemingly good relationship does not last that long, and that consequently throws Maud into lots of confusion and desperation. She keeps searching for any answer from God, but her God does not respond to her at all, and that makes her more exasperated and frustrated than before. She subsequently lets herself go back to her old messy self, and we accordingly get a series of uncomfortable scenes including the one where she comes to have more than one sexual encounter.

As we naturally come to have more doubt on her sanity, the movie pushes its heroine into more despair and madness. After experiencing a sort of epiphany, Maud becomes determined to push herself further into her religious faith, and she is also quite obsessed with saving Amanda’s soul, though that may not be what Amanda wants for now.

While we consequently become more distant to Maud as she is driven further by her religious mania, the movie keeps holding our attention as gradually dialing up the level of emotional intensity via several striking scenes including the one where she happens to experience a sort of spiritual elevation. Regardless of whether this feverish moment is real or not, she cannot help but become exalted more than ever, and that makes her more convinced that she is indeed an instrument of God for Amanda.

I will not go into details on what eventually happens around the end of the story, but I can tell you instead that it will strike you really hard mainly thanks to Morfydd’s committed acting. While her character is surely someone with whom you do not want to associate at any chance, Morfydd subtly conveys to us her character’s damaged psyche, and we come to understand her character’s pathological behaviors to some degree even though the movie does not wholly explain what makes her character tick. While the movie is virtually the showcase of Morfydd’s considerable acting talent, several other cast members of the movie including Jennifer Ehle, Lily Knight, and Lily Frzer are also solid in their small supporting parts, and Ehle did a good job of suggesting Amanda’s darker side behind her mild and fragile appearance.

In conclusion, “Saint Maud”, which is incidentally the first feature film of director/writer Rose Glass, is definitely not something you can casually watch on Sunday afternoon, but I recommend it nonetheless for not only Glass’s skillful handling of mood, story, and character but also Clark’s unforgettable performance. Both of them are apparently talented, and I sincerely hope that the movie will lead both of them to more good things to come in the future.

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