Published on February 2nd, 2021 | by Noah Dimitrie0
The title of Saint Maud lies to us—the central protagonist’s real name is actually Katie and she is far from a saint. Early in the film, she states that Mary Magdalene was her chosen Saint; fitting for a woman who is herself engaging in some combination of denial and atonement. This film finds its central character in a relatable and particularly uncomfortable circumstance, that of being torn between one’s past and one’s present. She wants to wash away her old sins by saving the soul of another.
In this case, its Amanda Kohl, a worldly, lesbian, chainsmoking atheist who seems completely comfortable with her terminal illness and the prospect of facing the afterlife. A major boon for Saint Maud (Katie) who seems to stake her whole self-worth on her ability (or lack thereof) to win souls for Christ.
The film portrays Katie as incredibly pious to the point of social awkwardness. In one very compelling scene we see her go to a bar and sit alone with a beer, pining for someone to go talk to her. She ends up finding a young gent and gives him a rather self-deprecating handjob. It’s a small moment, but it characterizes Katie well, contextualizing her religious fervour as a kind of brick wall between who she wants to be and who she really is.
Unfortunately, the film requires just too much reading in between the lines. Often, the film feels as though it is telling you to be afraid or to be concerned instead of a properly wrought descent into madness. For a film of this subject matter, Saint Maud doesn’t quite walk that line skillfully, but rather wobbles through it, kind of going through the motions of a good movie instead of doing the work to truly be one. All the potential is there, and that potential is felt so much that the film sort of tricks you into thinking its working. But as the third act approached, I found myself clawing back into the film looking for answers, looking for connective tissue beyond the occasional bit of macabre surrealism and creepy sound effects.
Speaking of sound, the mix is quite skillful and a really stand out quality of this peculiar thriller. But the film leans on its sound, using it as a kind of crutch to hold it up under scrutiny. All the boilerplate sound effects are there and they work on a surface-level. But the characterization isn’t quite there the contextualize it, to really pack a punch. Instead, we get ominous but ultimately empty moments of dread.
The film is never boring, it has that going for it. It gracefully glides from one scene to the next in a compositionally appropriate way. It’s gorgeously shot and features absolutely skillful performances that keep the ball rolling. However, there just isn’t enough beyond the surface. It held my attention but didn’t puncture, didn’t make itself deeply felt. For a film of such a cerebral nature—that of a crisis of faith and tragic loss of self-worth in the face of it—it doesn’t crack open Katie’s skull and really reveal her as much as it thinks it does. With a runtime of about 85 minutes, I was surprised to find it whizzed by without being truly affected.
While the final twenty minutes provide enough thrills and chills to qualify it as a horror film, those moments wreak of wasted potential, clogging up whatever vacuum of dread and horrifying reality that it seeks to instill. If you’re looking for a good scare, this one won’t be the film for you. If you are a patient and tolerant film-watcher, your experience may gravitate towards profundity. Perhaps I wasn’t in the correct mindset, thinking it would be more of a conventional scare machine.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t escape the nagging feeling watching it that there was more to this than met the eye. Yet, my eyes call ‘em like they see ‘em, and what they saw was enigmatic to a fault.