Saint Maud by first-time director Rose Glass is a masterpiece of intense misery and mania highlighted by a firey ending so disturbing you won’t ever forget it.
For fans of psychological horror, you won’t find fault with the relentlessly savage Saint Maud. The deeply affecting film holds you hostage, with a bombardment of visually stirring images and a cacophony of unsettling sounds. This is what horror should be. Something so profoundly troubling it requires decompressing. We watch as Maud, played committedly by Morfydd Clark, swings wildly between a tightly wound idealist and a dead-eyed purist through the tight eighty-minute run time. Nothing the poor girl does from the beginning is healthy. She is a lonely, isolated young woman dealing with a tragic medical incident barely explained. Maud handles the trauma by descending into a religious delusion so profound there is no room for reality. Here’s everything you need to know about the combustive ending.
Maud is currently working as an in-home hospice nurse for terminal aging dancer Amanda(Jennifer Ehle). We don’t know exactly what happened to make Maud leave her previous hospital position but it was bloody, bad, and left her shook. The quiet woman is a pious Catholic who presents as a cross between Carrie White’s mother and She in Lars von Trier’s Antichrist believes God is speaking directly to her. When her new charge Amanda calls her “my little savior,” she reinforces Maud’s belief that she is there to save Amanda. Unfortunately, Amanda later says she told Maud what she thought the woman wanted to hear and doesn’t really believe that. That causes Maud to spiral towards wildly contradictory extremes. She defies God, curses him, and later commits such cringeworthy acts of depravity it is hard to watch. Here’s what it all meant.
Was Maud crazy or did God really talk to her?
Maud, who was formally Katie, hasn’t been sane for a while. She is a depressed, lonely woman who has thrown herself into her delusion that God has employed her as his warrior. Despite her newfound faith, she wasn’t always devout and certainly wasn’t pious. The hilariously antiseptic handjob and equally perfunctory one-night stand she has shortly after being fired by Amanda speak to how she dealt with pain in the past. Likely for her, sex was a way to connect with people and be seen. For the mousy young girl, who has felt alienated and ignored for most of her life, sex may have been a vice.
When she became Maud, she wanted to give purpose to her bleak existence and enjoyed the delusion that although she felt unseen on Earth, God saw her and loved her. Even though she is newly religious, there are scars on her stomach, indicating the woman has been hurting herself for a while. Maud, formally Katie, has needed help for probably years. There is the implication that she had casual sex with strangers as a soothing technique, plus whatever happened to her patient in the hospital may have been her fault.
The Godgasms and sexual pleasure
It is very telling that Maud has several orgasms or Godgasms, as Rose Glass called them in Mashable but does not seem to derive pleasure from her sexual acts with men. These interludes might have been satisfying before, but with her new worldview, they no longer have the ability to bring her to climax. God, however, can fill her with spiritual and sexual pleasure. Early in Saint Maud, Maud appears to have several of these Godgasms, including one with Amanda.
Each time God communicates with her, she is filled with euphoria. In the beginning, it is a physical pleasure response. Later, it morphs into more extensive delusions like levitation, vomiting, and auditory and visual hallucinations. Maud is either suffering from a mental illness like schizophrenia, epilepsy, or she could have a brain tumor. Joan of Arc, with whom Maud obviously identifies, is believed to have had epilepsy which caused her to hear God.
The ending of Saint Maud explained
Maud went to Amanda to save her soul. Even though she had been fired, she still felt compelled to try to help Amanda repent. Amanda, who was probably in immense pain of her own from her illness, lashes out at her and tells Maud God isn’t real. That part actually happens. Everything after that, including Amanda’s demon face and tossing Maud across the room, is in Maud’s head.
The assumption is Maud killed Amanda when her faith in God was challenged, and that final act of depravity completed Maud’s descent into madness. She imagines that somehow by defeating the demon that Amanda was, she was now an angel preparing for Heaven. That preparation evidently includes setting oneself on fire on a public beach. In the last second of the film, the veil lifts to reveal that most of the movie seen from Maud’s perspective was fantasy. Maud is indeed on the beach on fire, but she is screaming in agony, not ecstasy. The horrified comments heard in the background as Maud douses herself in acetone lend further proof that Maud was not seen as an angel but a woman committing suicide in one of the most graphic ways possible.
Demons, angels, Heaven, or Hell don’t matter. Maud’s delusion could have been anything. Like the Son of Sam who killed because the neighbors dog told him, Maud killed Amanda because she believed she was saving the world from a demon. She was God’s warrior at that moment and justified in Amanda’s murder. For this woman who had been slipping into a black hole of pain and mental anguish, things were always going to end this way. Did she go to Heaven or Hell? In the end, it depends on the viewer’s own beliefs.
She was a mentally unstable woman who committed a terrible act because of that sickness. She wasn’t evil, just afflicted. Was she punished in her final moments? For the purposes of Saint Maud anyway, there is no God. That is why the voice of God who speaks to her in the final act is Clark’s voice modulated lower. This poor girl is not going to Hell. She was her own Hell on Earth. Maybe like Joan of Ark, she will be baptized by fire? In the end, Glass’s tense thriller is a psychotic descent into mania with all the tragedy, humor, and repulsion one would expect but hopes never to see.
You can stream Saint Maud on Amazon Prime right now.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.