The stark uprise of the darker and more dreary arthouse horror genre has shaped the modern landscape of how horrors have been made throughout the 2010’s and clearly into the 2020’s too. This form of modern arthouse horror is what I refer to as the “scream-cry” horror genre. So, what exactly is the “scream-cry” genre? Well, simply put, it describes a subset of horrors that are psychologically driven and tend to have a focus on mental deterioration; they’re generally packaged around a grounded and realistic setting – examples include The Babadook (2014), The Witch (2015), Hereditary (2018), Midsommar (2019), and The Lodge (2019). These films aren’t necessarily similar in plot, storytelling, or thematics – but more so in tone and pace, as well as how they’re attempting to unnerve their audience. Saint Maud in many ways is one of these films. I say all of this because despite what people may tell you, this “depressing horror genre” is quite divisive.
This genre often borders the line between psychological horror and thriller, the films in this genre are almost all slow burns, they lack frights, and are almost all universally depressing to watch. All of these caveats tend to divide film-goers into two groups, those who find this type of psychological horror to be engaging and those that find it slow and dull. Yes, that was a lot of words to simply say “it’s a slow horror movie and you might not like it” — but if you know anything about the aforementioned horrors I just listed, then you’ll likely know precisely what I’m talking about.
Saint Maud is slow, I reiterate this because that’s the point of this type of horror, it’s a slow deterioration of the character we’re following. The character of Maud is the bread and butter of Saint Maud, she’s a reserved and seemingly conservative young Christian girl with what appears to be a complicated past. She finds herself living in a seaside town with the task of taking care of a terminally ill patient.
Saint Maud on the surface may appear to be a film about religion, but what it really is, is a story about a young girl who’s as lost as she is deranged. We slowly watch Maud slip deeper and deeper into her own delusion of who she must be and what she must do. All of this is bolstered by a dropkick performance by Morfydd Clark – who commands a potent performance. Saint Maud in many ways is like watching Requiem for a Dream, it’s a viewing experience, you’re watching someone slowly fall apart and in many respects that will mean its slow and most certainly depressing – but to those who are hungry for this type of dreary horror, they’ll be right at home.
Ben Fordesman’s excellent use of imagery excels that uncomfortable atmosphere of the film. Neat little touches of detail from the beautiful array of lights overcasting the town till the gray/blue hues in isolated locations align with the screenplay or atmosphere. Subtle touches of visual effects are effectively used in match-cuts and other scenes, effectively having an impact on the experience of this film.
The art direction is another strong point of this film – allowing the film to feel isolated when it needs to and to use the locations as a visual guide to the character’s ever-increasing obsession and decaying mindset. Adam Janota Bzowski’s score is a bit hit and miss throughout this film. There are scenes where the quite subtle pieces fit in perfectly with the dialogue driven scene. However there are scenes where he tries to implore a horror type score which doesn’t fit with the direction and tone of this movie.
Saint Maud won’t score many points with film-goers looking for a deeply suspenseful and climatic horror, because it’s simply not cut from that same cloth – those with a hankering for psychological horror and character study will feel greatly rewarded as Saint Maud starts off this decade as the go-to case-study example of psychological horror.