Written and directed by Rose Glass, ‘Saint Maud’ is a psychological horror film set in an unnamed seaside town in England. The narrative follows Katie, a young woman who prefers to call herself Maud and works as a private nurse for terminally-ill clients. Through her profession, she meets Amanda Kohl, who is suffering from stage four cancer. It is Katie’s indomitable desire to save Amanda, not her ailing body but rather her mind and soul, that becomes the subject of the film.
‘Saint Maud’ Synopsis: Faith And Frenzy
The film begins with a young woman Katie, or Maud, as she calls herself, arriving at the house of an ailing lady who lives by herself. This woman, Amanda Kohl, is terminally-ill, and Maud is her new hospice nurse. Having converted into a devout Catholic Christian fairly recently, Maud finds Amanda’s habits and activities to be morally questionable and harmful for her soul. Amanda’s last days are often spent smoking and drinking with friends who visit her. Especially with her companion Carol, whom she regularly pays for sex. Maud initially keeps practicing her faith on her own and then gradually opens up to Amanda about it.
Although an atheist herself, Amanda agrees to sessions of praying together and admits that much like Maud, she too can physically feel the presence of God in her room with them. Soon, a lavish party is organized for Amanda’s birthday by her friends. Amanda reveals to everyone that Maud had asked Carol to stay away from her because the ‘saintly’ Maud believed that Carol’s presence in Amanda’s life was terrible for her soul. She even goes on to make fun of Maud for her beliefs, and in a confused and embarrassed rage, Maud strikes Amanda. Maud loses her job and questions her devotion towards God and how God has abandoned her.
That evening, out of sheer loneliness, she goes out in search of company and is taken home by a stranger. In a fit of physical convulsions, she returns home and seems to get possessed. Later she believes to have been visited by God Himself in the form of a cockroach and decides to put her ultimate dedication and faith in doing His works. Believing that it is her life’s aim to save humans from downfall, Maud dresses up as a saint and goes back to Amanda’s house to purge her soul.
Maud And Amanda: Can There Really Be Good Without Bad?
When Maud and Amanda start to build a good bond in their initial days, providing company to one another, Amanda gifts Maud Morton D. Paley’s William Blake, a book on Blake’s paintings, poetry, and writings. Much like the duality in Blake’s various works on religion, the characters of Maud and Amanda are embroiled in duality from the very beginning, which turns to a literal face-off by the end. Maud is a devout practicing Catholic, while Amanda is an atheist, who believes in hedonistic merry-making in her last few months of life. Amanda had spent a life of recognition and glamour as a renowned dancer and has no moralistic inhibitions, while, to Maud, most of it is debauchery. Beneath all these celebrations, Amanda is terribly scared of her impending death, of the void that she is soon about to enter.
On the other hand, Maud’s interpretation of death is silently that of a new beginning. It is Maud’s grim and calmly frenzied character, helped with the use of sound and an overall dark tone visually, that makes up most of the film’s watching experience. Despite her actions not being very unpredictable, the performative execution of them does not make them feel too drab. Maud’s conviction in God and her belief that her actions have a greater intention and that they will be rewarded is what drives her forward, what makes her transition from Katie to Maud. With enough marks of self-harm on her body from her previous lifestyle, she now indulges in similar actions, if not worse, but as acts of penance. Intentionally putting her hand on a burning-hot stove and putting a bed of nails on the sole of her shoes, only take her closer to her beliefs and God. By the end, it is frenzied faith that drives her, and by gruesomely transforming self-harm to self-consumption, she confers sainthood to her own self in her mind.
Interestingly, the mention of William Blake and related imagery from his works keep playing a subtle role throughout the film. After receiving the book from Amanda, Maud is awed by the depictions of Hell, God, and Christ that the painter had imagined. After she is dismissed from her job, she cuts out a few of these illustrations and pastes them on the wall at her self-made altar in her small apartment. Later at this altar, God directly visits her and talks to her, reassuring her faith. While reading about Blake in the book, Maud scoffs at how the man had worked relentlessly to dismiss and disregard institutionalized faith and the Church. But beneath the surface, she herself is driven by absolute blind faith; in the case of Blake. It was in his own creations and imagination of God, and in the case of Maud, it is through fanatical Catholic practice.
‘Saint Maud’ Ending Explained: Is Maud Really A Savior Saint?
A sense of finality starts setting in when Maud is determined to go cure Amanda’s soul, dressed in a makeshift robe and wearing rosary beads and a crucifix around her neck. By then, she already sees herself as a saint. In a confrontation with Amanda, who had simply played along with Maud’s faith out of sheer boredom of imminent death, Maud sees the ailing lady change into a demon who, like the Devil himself, questions God and her faith in Him, which seems to tremble at every blow. Maud stabs her to death and then burns herself on the beach the next morning. The entire ending can be looked at from two perspectives. While what happens on screen can be interpreted as what actually happens, Maud’s actions seem more driven by her psychological state of mind, where she sees what she wants to see.
The words of God in Welsh, the cyclonic movement she sees in the sky as an indication from God to act, the turning of atheists and disbelieving Amanda into a literal monster, can all be interpreted as the terribly lonely Maud’s own dangerous imagination. When Amanda’s dead body is shown in full by the camera, there is no demon to be seen, but a terminally-ill woman lying dead with a pair of scissors stabbed in her neck. At the very end too, when Maud sets herself ablaze, the people on the beach frantically rush to try and save her, but from her perspective, she sees them as kneeling subjects who praise her suffering and sacrifice, while two angel wings appear on her back. For a very brief frame lasting hardly a second, Maud’s burning face, screaming out in agony, is shown before the end credits start rolling.
Despite not being a concept very new to the horror film genre, this contradictory perspective, which is ultimately left open to the interpretation of the viewer, and the film’s craft in general, makes it quite a decent watch for all audiences.
Saint Maud is a 2020 Drama Horror film directed by Rose Glass.