Saint Maud (2019)
February 14, 2021 11:30 PM - Subscribe

Follows a pious nurse who becomes dangerously obsessed with saving the soul of her dying patient.

Originally ready for release, as fate would have it, just in time for the pandemic to hose film distribution, A24's Saint Maud is finally available for general viewing, streaming on Epix. Please be advised: This film could be very triggering for those who have experienced issues around self-harm.
posted by kittens for breakfast (15 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I watched this a couple of nights ago and loved it. It's right up there with Black Swan as one of the best psychological horror films I've ever seen. The final few seconds will remain in my head for years to come - and you'll understand why when you see it.
posted by Paul Slade at 9:51 AM on February 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the heads up. I was looking forward to seeing this and then forgot in all the pandemic.
posted by miss-lapin at 10:23 AM on February 15, 2021

Great film, deeply gripping the whole way through and shot through with melancholic dread. Mark Kermode’s favourite film of 2020 too (and there’s a man who knows a good scare when he sees one).
posted by brilliantmistake at 4:06 PM on February 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

I liked this, though I read a few too many stellar reviews which maybe raised my expectations too high. I found it to be good, but not fantastic. I did appreciate that it treated the religious aspects of the story seriously (something that is usually missing, oddly, from horror movies that are ostensibly about a struggle between God and the devil). And I enjoyed the inherent seaminess and spookiness of the run-down English (Welsh?) seaside town.

I sort of regretted that they left the very last shot in the movie, I would have preferred to have ended it before Maud's veil was lifted, so to speak, and I don't think it's asking too much of the audience to discern what's really happening in that scene.
posted by whir at 7:49 PM on February 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think the last shot is what makes the movie land -- like I think this movie would be an art house curiosity without the last shot -- but I'm not sure how I feel about what the film is, or possibly isn't, saying. If Maud is totally delusional, which the film implies very strongly, this leads to an interpretation of what we've just watched that borders on the nihilistic. I've seen several references to Taxi Driver as an inspiration for the film, but Taxi Driver, frankly, says meaningful things about the world in a way that this this movie is saying anything deeper than "religious people are fucked up," I don't know what it is. I do think this movie is extremely powerful and unsettling, but I feel like it stopped short of being...more. I don't know what. Just more.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:29 PM on February 17, 2021

English (Welsh?) seaside town.
English (Scarborough in North Yorkshire), though for a moment at the start I thought it was Llandudno on the North Wales coast, they are not dissimilar places.

I am fresh from watching this. I thought it was superb.

...if this movie is saying anything deeper than "religious people are fucked up," I don't know what it is

I didn't read it as saying religious people are fucked up, just that this particular person is, seemingly some confluence of PTDS and another condition, which has manifested itself in severe psychosis which is feeding on religious imagery. I found myself wondering - is this what schizophrenia is like, is this what the director is trying to show? Wondering if there was a Joan of Arc connection I found this interview, where the director indeed suggests the film is in some ways attempting to show how Joan of Arc's experience might manifest now (if we accept the notion that Joan of Arc's divine visions were in fact a form of psychosis).
posted by chill at 2:27 PM on February 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

It seems terribly unlikely to me that schizophrenia is like this; the scene where Amanda appears to be possessed, if it isn't a thing that's literally going on (as it doesn't seem to be), just kind of seems like a movie thing where characters have hallucinations that are completely indistinguishable from reality. If Maud were fucked up on that level, I don't think she could even get dressed in the morning, much less maintain a job that requires rigid and rigorous thinking like being an RN. I can accept that things like hearing the voice of God and feeling as though you have angel wings could be schizophrenia, I guess, and that a person could experience passing episodes that mostly don't interfere with normal life (until they do). But this much more melodramatic denouement feels sort of operatic and not like a real life thing to me. That's fine, because this is a movie and not real life. But it's not something I'm even going to try and map onto the experience of IRL schizophrenics.

Joan of Arc seems like an obvious point of reference, if a fuzzy one; Joan of Arc wasn't a busybody who meddled in other people's sex lives, that I recall, and she didn't set herself on fire. Maud's experience seems much more like William Blake's, at least throughout most of the film. And that may be a lot of my problem with the film, because I think that reducing an explicitly Blake-like character to a murderer and a self-immolating lunatic is an unfair and cruel bit of character assassination. Maybe Glass is saying that there isn't a place for a Blake in our modern world, but honestly that seems a bit trite to me, and probably not true.

I dunno. It's a weird movie in that it affected me very strongly but I find myself liking it less the more I think about it. It's a compelling experience for sure.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:59 PM on February 18, 2021

I'll also say, a little more prosaically, that movies where characters have elaborate hallucinations that are indistinguishable from reality present a major problem for me, which is that really anything that seems weird or off in the movie could be a hallucination. Did Amanda's party happen the way we think it did? Were Carol and Amanda really lovers? Was there ever really anyone else in the house besides Maud and Amanda at all? Once you accept that Maud is capable of imagining something like Amanda going Regan MacNeil on her, the reality of the entire film is up for grabs. Did Maud really set herself on fire, is Maud just a brain in a jar, etc.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:08 PM on February 18, 2021 [3 favorites]

that movies where characters have elaborate hallucinations that are indistinguishable from reality present a major problem for me

I feel the same way, for all the reasons you stated. It seems like this trope of "protagonist has a personal or family history of mental illness, so maybe the movie is full of spooky happenings or maybe it's largely hallucinatory" has become more and more common in the past several years, especially along the more indie side of the horror-movie spectrum. It's not great, both because it undermines the stakes of the story (via "Maud is just a brain in a jar" etc), and because it tends to perpetuate negative stereotypes of mental illness while trying to use a (typically) empathetic portrayal of a person with mental illness as a kind of shield against criticism. But like you said, if the movie is about Maud's mental illness, then what is it... about?
posted by whir at 10:24 PM on February 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

I thought this was well made, and Morfydd Clark did a great job, but it did feel like it was missing a wrinkle that would give it more depth.
posted by fleacircus at 10:37 PM on March 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

I thought Maud had a brain tumor (which would explain her rapid decline).

I didn't think it was about "religious people are fucked up." I saw it more about how she adapted unhealthy coping mechanism to deal with her failure, which may have been compounded by an undiagnosed condition. There's also a bit of a praise of frivolity. The nurse who Maud interacts with on the pier is able to balance being there for Amanda without seeing it as this epic charge from God. Confronted with this fairly healthy outlook, Maud stalks away. The nurse echoes what Amanda said to Maud, that she needs to loosen up a bit. Maud needs to find a healthy balance between frivolity and somberness instead of oscillating wildly between the two.

The most compelling part of the movie for me was when Amanda and Maud interact. Maud's odyssey of self harm and delusions isn't as interesting without Amanda as a foil.
posted by miss-lapin at 10:15 PM on May 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

Also currently streaming on Amazon Prime
posted by miss-lapin at 6:36 AM on May 20, 2021

I'm still processing (i.e. it's still on my mind two days later), but I thought this was a really powerful movie. In addition to the thematic fit with A24's other horror, it also reminded me of Kill List, and perhaps of Dead Man's Shoes, too - bleak, well-realised, genre-bending horror movies set in the British hinterlands.

And that ending. Fuck.

I thought the discussion here was really interesting - as the credits rolled I immediately wanted to go and find somewhere that people were talking about it, and wasn't disappointed.

I'll also say, a little more prosaically, that movies where characters have elaborate hallucinations that are indistinguishable from reality present a major problem for me, which is that really anything that seems weird or off in the movie could be a hallucination.

I think this is an issue for whodunnits and other plot-driven genres films. "All that stuff was a dream / hallucination" is frustrating because, well, on the one hand it's horribly overused, and on the other it completely undermines the central element driving the film, which is a game of trying to work out who did what when. (Although even then it can be used to good effect, particularly as a twist to retroactively explain contradictions - thinking of A Beautiful Mind, or Fight Club here.)

It's far less of a problem for something like Mulholland Drive, where the point isn't actually to work out what's happening in a literal sense. The movie isn't setting a puzzle to be solved, and if parts are irreconcilable then that can be intentional on the part of the filmmakers and point towards some larger meaning, rather than being a goof. Think of the architectural logic of something like Last Year in Marienbad: the idea isn't to draw a mental blueprint of the house, and you would swiftly run into trouble if you did.

Anyway, there was a good post on mythos vs logos on the Blue a while ago that talked about this, using Annihilation as a jumping off point.

I think that Saint Maud is basically a horror movie, and not knowing whether Maud is actually experiencing these hallucinations or what is causing them is sort of irrelevant - definitely in the case of this film, and often in the case of the genre more generally. There isn't necessarily a literal reality being documented here, there's a story being told, there's what the filmmakers choose to show and what they choose to conceal. And I think that Saint Maud works very effectively at what it does, however you choose to interpret the ending.

...if this movie is saying anything deeper than "religious people are fucked up," I don't know what it is.

Speaking of interpretation, I (like Kermode in the review linked upthread) spent a lot of the film wondering whether - in my own "more literal" interpretation - Maud was talking to a demon, rather than to God. I think that the film's power - at least to me - is that it says something interesting about the nature of faith, and how frightening the experience of visions can be, regardless of their cause. It's a character study of someone very unhappy, who struggles with the belief (or the desire to believe) that they have found a higher purpose, and who has evidence for this belief that - by the nature of the evidence - is impossible to verify with the outside world. As Rose Glass acknowledges, it's somewhat inevitable that the audience question whether this is driven by mental illness or not. As someone who has been close to people struggling with the more "operatic" forms of psychosis, some people definitely do struggle with beliefs that huge, life-or-death global events hinge on their hallucinations. Presumably this would be as true - if not more true - of someone genuinely receiving the Word of God - religious texts are clear that this is an overwhelming, often terrifying experience.

Either way, in the mundane world, what Maud experiences is very frightening for her and for others around her, and her actions are very destructive for her and for others around her. Religious conviction is a powerful force, and from a purely secular perspective, religious people do both good and bad things on account of it. The best case scenario for Maud is that she was driven to carry out the wishes of a God (one that confirms the beliefs of a particular, unforgiving, old-testament vision of Christianity) and will be rewarded for her pain in this life in the next. Otherwise she was lead astray by another kind of spirit, or by psychosis.

Those are really interesting, relevant, deep questions to get your teeth into: not simply "religious people are fucked up", but real questions about how religion interacts with modern beliefs about the limits of acceptable behaviour, the limits of acceptable religious conviction, and modern understandings of what is and isn't mental illness. If - like many figures later recognised as saints - you are driven to do something extreme as a result of your religious convictions (start a crusade, for example) you may well find yourself very badly out of step with the rest of society. That holds whether the rest of society is made up of co-religionists; people of another faith; or a largely secular population. Glass suggests that the film illustrates how Joan of Arc would have been received differently in this day and age, but bear in mind that many saints were willingly "martyred" (i.e. tortured to death on the basis of their religious convictions).

How is what Maud experiences so different from what many saints have gone through? And how would Maud know? And how, for that matter, do we know? These questions all remain open at the end of the film.

Anyway, it may not have been Taxi Driver, but for me at least as a character study of an unhappy person who truly experiences powerful "visions"; as a horror movie; and as a movie opening up questions about the nature of belief and situating them in a largely secular world, I thought it was incredibly effective.

(And scary as shit.)
posted by chappell, ambrose at 4:13 AM on June 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

For anyone who quite reasonably skipped that due to length, I think my take can be summed up like this:

Whether or not Maud was actually experiencing a supernatural event, or was "merely" experiencing psychosis (which from her perspective would be more-or-less indistinguishable) is the central question of the film. It's also sort of quite a central question in life, if you have any religious conviction, or live around people who do.


Whether Maud was experiencing a supernatural event or was experiencing psychosis within the diegetic space of the movie is kind of irrelevant, and not a question that I believe the filmmakers even particularly wanted to answer.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 4:31 AM on June 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

I read the film as Maud having a psychotic break, due to PTSD after losing the patient we see in flashbacks. Not having been previously religious, her conversion was sudden and obsessive, and fed on a lot of the worst parts of her in-the-moment mental health issues. I do not believe anything supernatural happened at all.

I also don't believe the film was trying to slag religion, and I would hazard a guess that if you pressed the filmmakers they would say that even if they aren't necessarily people of faith, it is critical to note that Maud was "doing it wrong" anyway.

The Joan of Arc comparison feels very apt.

I do wish I had seen the film without any hype, so that it could have been a surprise gem, instead of a much-ballyhooed movie that I liked but didn't quite love to the level that others seem to love. A B I wasn't expecting would have felt better than a promised A that came up a bit short.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:15 AM on February 9, 2022

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