The Ascention of Saint Maud
🚨🚨🚨 SPOILER ALERT 🚨🚨🚨
Rose Glass arrives to the horror scene with an unusual, devastating debut that is equally ambitious in its staging and in its exploration of the human psyche, spirituality and corporeality.
Maud (Morfydd Clark) is a hospice nurse who, after suffering an unknown trauma at her previous job, becomes a devoted follower of Catholicism. Obsessed with the idea that she has come to this world to fulfill a greater purpose, Maud meets a new patient, Amanda: a hedonist who represents the most glamorous decadence. Shortly after being in charge of her care, Maud becomes convinced that she must save Amanda's soul before she dies, in order to fulfill the will of the God that manifests within her and, therefore, achieve a coveted status of holiness. From that moment on, a series of events unfold in Maud's life that will make her come and go in her faith, questioning it and getting it back, over and over again.
Saint Maud is a movie that undoubtedly requires more than one viewing. It is a film loaded with symbolism, in which nothing is left to chance. Recurring motifs, patterns and references build a visual universe that acts as a hinge between the outer world and the inner world of our tormented protagonist. It would be an understatement to say that Glass's staging is impeccable. It is clear that the British director has thought of the story as an indivisible unit with the visual elements used to tell it, which is reflected in aesthetic decisions such as the Dutch angles, the camera from above or even the inverted shots -the latter being cleverly employed when Maud suffers a deep crisis of faith-. All of these are different uses of the camera that serve as tools to portray Maud's anguish and convey it to the viewer with equal intensity. This is also accompanied by dim lighting in spaces that are bathed in a captivating chiaroscuro that alludes to the more classic Gothic horror.
Saint Maud develops in a constant game between faith and illusion, between the real and the imagined. We see everything through Maud's eyes, and everything is always narrated in a constant conversation between her and the God she worships. We never know for sure whether or not Maud really talks to an ethereal being -and if she does, if its nature is good or evil-. And this membrane that is her gaze is only ruptured in brief moments that show glimpses of an external reality, such as the scene where she encounters a former coworker who refers to her as Katie, calling into question "Maud's" sanity and the things she has told so far. But the moment that embodies this in the most direct way, and the one that is probably the most powerful scene in the entire film, is the final shot, which bursts in violently to show there is an alternate version to what Maud is seeing, thus making it clear that there is in fact a second reality that has been concealed. It is a devastating and extremely shocking conclusion, but in a sense it is also highly cathartic. In Maud's eyes, both conclusions lead to the same happy ending. One is the imagined: her winged self, immolated and ready to finally rise to the heavenly plane. The other is the external: a woman burning in flames, moaning and howling in pain. The latter is the one she must go through to get to the first, the suffering she must experience in order to reach her ascension. And what greater suffering than this death. What greater reward than this death.
Additionally, this shot emphasizes an element that is transversal to the story: that of the corporeality. Throughout the film, Maud not only believes she is talking to God, but she feels him physically within her, experiencing climactic moments that are situated in an ambiguity between an orgasm and a possession. It is not by chance, therefore, that the horror in Saint Maud is linked to a sub-genre such as body horror, if one takes into account that the body is something that has been historically linked to religion. Punishment, self-flagellation, martyrdom, and the sin of the flesh are all concepts in which the body plays a central role. This is how, through this element, Glass manages to add countless layers to the story, closely exploring the relationships between religiosity and sexuality, pain and pleasure, thanatos and eros.
There are so many readings to be made of Glass's work that there is no doubt that it will be talked about for a long time. Saint Maud presents a type of horror that at times resembles other contemporary films, but at others seems anomalous and unprecedented. But, above all, it presents an exploration of the psyche that questions, from its very core, the veracity of what is being told -and of the voice that is telling it-. Maud is a self-proclaimed martyr, a possessed woman, an enlightened being, a psychotic nurse, a murderer, a saint… She is everything and nothing at once. She shows us what she wants us to see, and in the same way she conceals what she wishes to conceal. And at the end of it all, the question that remains is: Has Maud ascended to that coveted hereafter or has she descended into utter madness? What we have witnessed is her story, her truth, and almost like religion itself, it is up to each one of us to choose the version we want to believe.