Before this mild-mannered young woman moves from her humble studio apartment into the lavish home of Amanda (a fierce Jennifer Ehle), a celebrated choreographer who is inching towards death, Maud is shown with blood on her hands, gaping in horror at a gory corpse draping off a hospital gurney. Is this the future or the past? A threat or a trauma? Saint Maud delights in teasing out the answer by plunging us into the mind of its protagonist.Though outwardly timid, Maud has a rich inner life. She speaks to God throughout her day in a whispered voiceover. It's not just prayers. Maud gossips to God, criticizing the hedonistic indulgences of booze, cigarettes, vanity, and lesbian sex that Amanda enjoys in her numbered days. Maud believes there's a greater joy to be found in salvation. Her relationship with God has shown her as much. Though God is silent in their conversations, He sends rushes of love that hit Maud as body-rattling orgasms, twisting her limbs into fits of pleasure and contorting her mouth and eyes into jarring distortions. But God is not her only love.
As she grows captivated by Amanda's smirks, saltiness, and sensuality, Maud fantasizes about saving this hedonist's soul. Through this self-ordained mission, Maud briefly breaks free from her loneliness by appeasing her God and impressing Amanda. However, her zealotry crosses a line that'll push this wild-eyed waif down a dangerous path of revolt, revelation, and reckless redemption.
The narrative Glass chisels is etched in anxiety, heartache, and religious fervor. Every scene throbs with an eerie tension, as each one pulls us deeper into Maud's state of mind. Flashbacks, dream sequences, and voiceover allow us to bear witness to her darkest secrets, unspoken prayers, and repressed desires. Sound design wretched with metallic scraping, watery echoes, and groans of pressure throbs throughout to express the building emotions that Maud doesn't dare express.
This nightmarish soundscape swells, threatening to consume us as these dark moods threaten to consume her. Yet we are more than the audience to Maud's melancholy and madness. We are ultimately her God, seeing all as she turns to virtue and then vice to grasp desperately for the solace of love and connection. We are invited to judge her every move with a blend of empathy and horror. Then, we are left to wonder what it all says about humankind.
This religious horror film has been building buzz on the festival circuit, and it's easy to understand why. Rather than resting on jump scares or some grisly-looking villain, its horror is found in hurtling audiences into the headspace of a damaged anti-hero, who is all too familiar with hell on earth. Hell is loneliness. Hell is other people. Hell follows Maud whether she's caring for the sick, trolling for a hookup in a seedy bar, or subjecting herself to stomach-churning, self-inflicted body-horror. Echoing this, the sound design moves from the creaks of Maud's tormented mind to the tear of a pulpy scab and the squish of blood in grungy sneakers. The spooky spectacle is not just in spurts of gore, skittering bugs, or visions of damnation, but in the stingy lamplight that caresses curves of flesh yet sinks them into an inky shadow, a constant reminder of doom. In sight and sound, every second of this film is alive with art and agony, making Saint Maud a righteously haunting horror offering that deserves to be worshipped.
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