Rose Glass’ long-awaited feature-length debut Saint Maud has been billed as a horror, but it’s more of a melancholic character piece that analyzes the psychological turmoil a devout follower could experience….that works way too hard to be textbook horror.
I’m curious as to why Saint Maud works so hard to scare audiences. This story of a religious live-in nurse who is quietly following her own personal agenda naturally makes us on edge, and the initial enigmatic qualities of the film’s title character make us squirm out of discomfort; which becomes more provocative as writer/director Glass provides answers and asks us to experience Maud’s perspective. But despite that potential, which is still tapped into and used accordingly to great effect once we’re asked to truly sink into Maud’s lost soul, Saint Maud falls back on typical factors to creep out movie goers; including set design lifted from a predictable gothic nightmare, narration in the form of spaced-out prayers, and intentionally intrusive camerawork. These are currently referred to as arthouse horror (or “elevated horror”) ingredients. With a film like last year’s Gretel & Hansel, these elements can be blended really well into a story’s origins making these creepy cues very subtle. The formula is all too obvious during Saint Maud, which has a professional yet predictable quality to its visual scares.
The storytelling, however, is well executed in Saint Maud. Rose Glass doesn’t ask us to forgive Maud for her missteps, but the filmmaker wants to provide a complete understanding of someone this lost within their beliefs as they start to psychologically unravel and fall apart in front of themselves. To skate that close to someone’s vulnerable disillusion challenges viewers and, with a fully realized vision, Glass commits and accomplishes this confrontational theme.
This debut sets a stunning watermark for Rose Glass as a storyteller, and a decent bar for her as a horror director with room for growth.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie