Saint Maud is another A24 exercise in elevated, modulated horror but is fairly absent of anything beyond empty, artful pretense.
It’s been a long journey to the screen for Rose Glass’ Saint Maud. After premiering at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, Saint Maud has been slowly navigating the festival circuit and opening in international markets over the course of 2020, before finally finding American screens in 2021. While hype has been quietly building on Twitter, via both word of mouth and A24 association, with the film poised to be accessible to its widest audience yet, the law of averages says that enthusiasm is likely to fade.
So, the plot: Saint Maud follows a deeply religious nurse whose newfound devotion to Christianity borders on the fanatical. Assigned as an in-home caretaker for a lesbian author (Jennifer Ehle), Maud (Morfydd Clark) becomes immediately smitten with her, and, of course, then becomes determined to save her soul from the fires of eternal damnation. Yet, it soon becomes clear that something much more sinister is going on beneath the surface, and the deity to whom Maud is so slavishly devoted may not be the benevolent god she believes.
The idea that fundamentalist Christians aren’t actually serving “God” is an intriguing premise — particularly within the context of the hatred that the religious right has spread over the past 40 years — but Saint Maud too often gets lost in its own atmospheric trappings. It’s a slow burn, in the tradition of other A24 horror efforts like The Witch, Hereditary, and It Comes at Night, but it’s also long on atmosphere and light on substance. Glass consistently seems to be approaching interesting ideas across the film’s runtime, but then shies away from them at the last minute, resulting in a viewing experience that is often more frustrating than fascinating. The film is anchored by a strong performance from Morfydd Clark, but the script’s inconsistent characterization does her little favors, often striking an odd balance between over-explaining itself and remaining maddeningly obtuse.
The A24 “elevated horror” aesthetic is approaching self-parody levels at this point, with its desaturated color scheme and hushed sense of portent and dread. While it has certainly resulted in some top-notch work, it almost seems afraid to embrace its own genre, trafficking instead in self-conscious artiness that amounts to little more than smoke and mirrors. The ambition of Saint Maud mostly exceeds its grasp, hiding its pretensions under artful compositions and a droning score designed to distract the audiences from the fact that there’s nothing behind the curtain.
You can watch Rose Glass’ Saint Maud in theaters this weekend or stream on Epix beginning on February 12.