Saint Maud: “Are you there God?”

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Saint Maud
Horror
Rated: R

Saint Maud tells the story of a hospice nurse who becomes fixated on saving the soul of her dying charge. This is an example of another critical darling released by my favorite distributor A24, which always seems to find amazing, thoughtful, and unsettling films — what I would call ‘prestige horror’. Films like The Witch, Hereditary, The Lighthouse, The Lodge and Midsommar. And as far as I’m concerned they can keep doing this forever. Needless to say, this movie did not disappoint.

We start the story with Maud, wearing hospital scrubs and blood on her gloved hands, looking up at the ceiling, where a very large beetle is crawl towards her. What’s with the bug? We don’t know, but it’s a creepy image. We also get what I call “the prestige indie horror music cue”, a thundering ominous note to let you know things are serious.

Skipping in time, we find Maud starting a job as a home hospice worker for Amanda, a famous choreographer who is dying of spinal cancer. Maud is a very serious person who has thrown herself headlong into Catholicism. Amanda is the polar opposite. She represents the peak of everything the secular world has to offer: fame, success and wealth. But what good are those things when you’re dying? You can’t take it with you.

We hear Maud’s prayers as inner dialogue, which gives us a sense that this movie is not only about religion but about her mind as well. And Maud, herself, feels called by God for a purpose. Perhaps that purpose is to help Amanda deal with the existential crisis of dying. Maybe she can save Amanda’s soul? But Amanda seems to want to do everything she can to forget about the eternal with drinking and debauchery. But the more Maud gets through to Amanda, the more she continues to have these religiously ecstatic moments, almost like seizures. When Maud confides that God talks to her through these experiences, Amanda seems receptive. But is she messing with Maud?

It’s not until Amanda hires a female prostitute that things start to unravel for Maud. Jealous of this new rival, Maud tries to get her to leave quietly, but it blows up in her face at Amanda’s birthday party when she’s publicly humiliated and later fired when she slaps Amanda.

Its a devastating blow psychologically for Maud. She’s set adrift, and we the audience are helpless as we watch Maud mentally deteriorate. Maud’s hallucinations intensify, as do the brutality of her self-inflicted penance. We also discover the meaning of the opening scene and the reason why Maud is so damaged. Her name is actually Katie and she was a new nurse who was trying to save someone’s life with CPR chest compressions, instead ended up brutally crushing the patient’s ribs, graphically caving in their chest. Many years ago, I was a CPR instructor in the Air Force and I heard stories about this actually happening. We were warned you could easily break ribs if you pressed too hard. This went way beyond that. Not good.

Maud’s religious fervor builds to a climax when she finds out Amanda is close to dying. She has one last chance to save her soul. But her hallucinations have also intensified to the point where she’s being instructed by what she thinks is the voice of God (and I was totally expecting would be the creepy bug). I can’t tell if the film is trying to suggest the things she’s experiencing are real, but I only ever saw them as hallucinations brought on by her declining mental health.

The climax and finale of the film are deeply tragic and haunting, but I’ll let you experience them yourselves if you dare. The final frames of that film… *shudders*

Overall, Saint Maud was a really effective story. The setup was pretty slow burn and the horror itself was not graphic like Hereditary, but still effective. Maud is a tragic figure that the system failed. I think it speaks to the failings of our institutions for not taking care of people experiencing PTSD. The religious aspects of the film were more of a device than an actual discussion — which is fine. We do get the sense that in a very dark moment in her life, when everything else abandoned her, Maud sought comfort in religion, but that comfort proved elusive. Ultimately, Maud’s quest to save the soul of Amanda is a search for redemption for herself. The voice she hears is not God’s, but her own mind providing a brutal cycle of remorse and punishment for things in the past.

As the famous poet and songwriter Jewel once opined: “Who can save your soul, if you won’t save your own?”

Popular Official Lens Creator for Snapchat and co-founder of Big Banzai, a Virtual/Augmented Reality development company in Nashville, TN