Thoughts on “Saint Maud”

So, on the back, the blurbs for this movie are:  “An Unholy Terror”, “Promises Endless Nightmares”, and “An Out-Of-Control Religious Horror Show”.  The front calls it “A Damned Disturbing and Deliciously Dark Experience”.  None of these are actually true about the movie, and yet someone it is supposedly, according to the box, certified “Fresh” on the “Rotten Tomatoes” site, which I have personally never relied on to tell me anything interesting about a movie, which is fortunate, because this isn’t all that great a movie.

The basic premise is that a young woman accepts a job as a caretaker for a terminally ill woman who used to have a dancing career but, obviously, had to give it up when she got sick.  The young woman — the titular Maud — is fairly religious, but is established fairly early on that she became religious after something happened to her while she was working as a nurse in a hospital.  She ends up making it a personal mission to convert her charge to the light, even interfering when her charge is having relations with a rough-type woman.  Her charge seems to be interested in what Maud has to say but ends up mocking her at a party and Maud eventually lashes out and gets fired.  She then has some kind of vision and returns to convince her charge to convert, at which point her charge insults her religion and her belief in it, at which point Maud seemingly sees the charge as being demon possessed and kills her.  She then prays for a bit — in her house — and then goes to a beach to set herself on fire in the hopes of being taken to God, with wording that reminded me, at least, of Joan of Arc.  The end.

The issue here is that pretty much all of the blurbs above suggest that this is a horror movie, and it isn’t.  There is no real supernatural influence at all, despite them hinting at it in early scenes and with the one scene where she has a vision of what is supposed to seem like a supernatural creature encouraging her to do what she ends up doing.  But at that point we’re sure that she’s insane, so it comes across as a hallucination instead of as some supernatural entity getting involved.  The same is true of the scene where the charge talks as if she’s possessed by the devil:  we’re pretty sure that Maud is hallucinating that, especially since the movie seems to show that that is the case.  It could work as a horror/drama movie where it shows someone descending into madness and doing horrible things, but Maud doesn’t really descend into madness and only does really terrible things at the very end, at which point we can see that she’s already been driven insane.  This is not a movie in the vein of “Fatal Attraction” or “Single White Female”.

So it would work best as a straight drama, about a young woman with a tragedy in her past that turns to religion and ultimately gets things terribly, terribly wrong.  But it doesn’t do that either, because we don’t find out what event in her past caused her change in personality in behaviour and don’t get to see that what she’s doing now is just the same sort of thing with a religious veneer, or that it’s a reaction to that.  There are hints of what happened to her in her past that suggest that she’s the way she is because of that, but we never find out how that all happened, and for a straight drama/thriller we really would have needed that.  So it doesn’t seem to work as that either, despite its set-up being far better suited for that sort of movie than the one we got.

Which is a bit of a shame, because one thing they got right is the heroine herself.  Whether she was going to be tormented by supernatural demons or her own personal demons or a combination of both, what we needed was a woman who was attractive but not so attractive that she’d come across as sexy.  In general, in movies like these we need the heroine to be sympathetic and appealing but to be a bit plain when compared to the other characters, especially if there’s going to be a sexual subtext (which there was here).  For the most part, the character has to look pleasant and nice and perhaps even a little innocent — even if they aren’t really — so that we can treat them, basically, like the stereotypical “girl next door”.  If she’s too worldly, then it lends itself more to starting from a cynical character tried of the world, and if she’s too innocent she’s boring and we have a hard time believing that she can summon the will and understanding to fight off the villains.  Maud, here, in terms of looks, presentation and overall attitude fits nicely into the sweet spot for a heroine in this type of movie.  It’s a shame that the movie couldn’t do more with it.

Also, I find the references to religion a bit odd, because religion doesn’t really play a role in this movie at all.  Nothing she does actually follows from her religion, even as she sees it.  She’s clearly insane and it also clearly wasn’t religion that made her so.  The logic of the movie would work just as well following on from her trying to make people’s lives better and getting frustrated when they don’t.  There’s a slight undercurrent of her believing that God had a purpose for her, but the webcomic “The Order of the Stick” actually did that far better than this movie did.  Religion is talked about in this movie but nothing is done with it, so talking about it as if it references that seems odd.  There is a rant by her charge about how Maud is delusional for believing in God, and so some of the more atheistic types might like it for that reason, but again Maud is clearly insane and that character isn’t exactly wise so it doesn’t work as a criticism of religion.  That means that we get no interesting exploration or criticism of religion at all, and so only have the trappings of religion referenced in the movie in a way that’s probably supposed to be meaningful but, ultimately, isn’t meaningful at all.

The movie’s not really a horror movie but seems to be trying too hard to be one to be what it is really suited for, a tragic drama.  The main character is appealing but there’s no plot or characterization to follow, which makes her, and the movie, boring.  This one is going into the box of movies to sell when I get a chance.

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One Response to “Thoughts on “Saint Maud””

  1. Thoughts on “Scream” | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] think that Neve Campbell has the qualities that make for a good horror heroine, as I talked about when I talked about “Saint Maud”.  She’s pretty enough to be sympathetic, but in no way a sexpot, and so she does look like […]

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