In 1971 the writer William Peter Blatty achieved his first commercial success with his fiction book about a little girl in Georgetown who was possessed by a demon. That book was The Exorcist. It became such a big bestseller that when a movie adaptation was made, people stood in long lines in the winter to be able to see it. Some viewers fainted while watching the movie. Rumors spread of people vomiting, having heart attacks and even miscarriages as a result of seeing this movie. The Exorcist was so scary at the time that it was one of the first examples of “cinematic neurosis”. People were so into the movie that they had actual measurable physiological responses to their fear, even though they were also fully aware they were watching a piece of fiction from the safety of a movie theater.
Soon, similar movies like The Omen, The Amityville Horror and The Sentinel quickly popped up trying to recapture the virality of The Exorcist. To this day, the story’s legacy is seen all over the horror genre. The second highest-grossing horror movie franchise of all time, the Conjuring franchise, is all about demonic possessions and exorcisms. We horror fans LOVE to love a good creepy religious movie. Even horror movies about cults are popular, with The Wicker Man and Midsommar among the most beloved in the genre.
Personally, I’m a big Ed and Lorraine Warren reader. I think the couple is fascinating and my life goal is to get to go to the (now private) Warren Occult Museum. The Conjuring movies are some of my favorite. Still, even I can admit that these creepy religious horror movies that have come from The Exorcist‘s legacy all largely feel the same.
What sets 2020’s Saint Maud apart from all these other religious horror movies is that it doesn’t focus on “creepy” aspects of Catholicism or demonic possession at all. Rather than being esoteric, it’s set in the real world where most people aren’t religious at all. It’s a modern story about a traumatized woman who is desperate to grab at any available life raft to keep her afloat, she only happens to land on Christianity.
The titular Maud is a young hospice nurse in England who has recently become a devout Christian. While on a new assignment caring for a vivacious woman dying of lymphoma, Maud becomes obsessed with the idea that it is up to her to save the woman’s soul. If that sounds like a creepy patient/caregiver dynamic, you’re absolutely correct. At times, Saint Maud is straight up uncomfy to watch. Here’s the trailer:
Saint Maud topped a lot of hardcore horror fan’s “best of 2020 lists” (and it has nothing to do with a lack of competition). The film holds a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It has good review from “the experts” and from the fans:
I FELT #saintmaud in my gut soul. Whole hour half with my hands by my face and Rose Glass never letting me off the hook!! Incredible filmmaking.
— Rose Reynolds (@RoseAReynolds) March 11, 2021
Watched SAINT MAUD at last! The way it explores sin, mortification and martyrdom & leads us on a dark journey both psychological and spiritual is magnificent.
Horror with a religious slant hits different for me, it taps into the depths of my soul. Terrifying and powerful. pic.twitter.com/17gkbobbfa
— Supermegabot (@Supermegabot) March 13, 2021
Saint Maud –
An intense thriller/horror with a unique perspective by keeping the viewer with Saint Maud the entire time. Some beautiful scenes of madness for a character looking for redemption from her past. Very entertaining and creepy return to a24 horror 😁. 4/5 pic.twitter.com/EU3QqjtW3G
— Norman Saw It (@NormSawIt) March 9, 2021
The movie was written and directed by Rose Glass, her first time doing either for a feature length film. She told Elle she resonates with Maud’s character but has never been particularly religious herself “In Christianity, almost the worst thing you can do is not believe. But the whole thing of faith is believing in something without evidence, which I’ve struggled with.”
If you’re not religious yourself, you don’t have to worry about watching a pious protagonist for 90 minutes. You’ll see the “real” Maud too. There are a few unpleasant scenes where we see Maud’s mask slip and we see what her life was like before her sudden conversation to Christianity. Glass says she included these scenes because “it was important for people to realize what her life is like without faith and behind this strange veneer she’s created for herself. It’s someone who’s flailing and in desperate need of interaction and communication and support but doesn’t know how to go about asking for it and ends up slipping back into self-destructive patterns.”
Saint Maud is available for rental or purchase on Amazon.