The Religious Madness of ‘Saint Maud’ is Equal Parts Wrenching and Ecstatic

Leave a comment

Saint Maud (CREDIT: A24)

Starring: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Knight, Lily Frazer

Director: Rose Glass

Running Time: 83 Minutes

Rating: R for Disturbing Content, Often Sexually Themed

Release Date: January 29, 2021 (Theaters)/February 12, 2021 (On Demand)

Religiosity is a hell of a drug. That possibility for ecstasy is one of the reasons I’ve remained loyal to my own faith practices. But you can take it too far to the point that it gets a little dangerous, as demonstrated by Morfydd Clark as the titular caretaker of Saint Maud. Jennifer Ehle is also present to play Amanda, a ballet dancer in hospice care. Stage 4 lymphoma has done a number on her body, but it hasn’t taken away her caustic wit. So when new live-in nurse Maud struts in, it’s pretty clear she’s got a lot on her plate to handle.

Hospice care is surely demanding and highly stressful, even for people who are fully committed to the calling. Maud does her best to be fully committed, but how exactly does that commitment manifest? Bloody religious imagery suggests that she may just be falling into a possession. But is this a hellish spirit that is overtaking her, or a heavenly one? Or maybe this is some sort of placebo possession, in which she wants to be such a good little servant of God that she subliminally convinces herself that she’s’ been taken over. She’s got an active mind, and active minds can be quite fabulous when you are devoted to a lonely job and the subject of your devotion is much more distant than you’d like her to be.

By insisting that everyone follows her way of doing things, Maud comes off as a bit of a Pharisee, although she is quite a bit more tortured than that traditionalist biblical group. (Although maybe some Pharisees had agonizing internal lives that we never got to see?) Here’s the deal: Saint Maud starts off pretty straightforwardly, at least as straightforward as you can be when one main character is so close to death and the other one is so close to God. But from the beginning, there is also some bloody mystical business bubbling underneath the surface, and if  you think that is going to lead to some big expressive climax, then your cinematic viewing instincts are in proper working order.

While watching Saint Maud, I found it somewhat difficult to emotionally connect to as I had trouble figuring out just what sort of movie it wanted to be. But having had plenty of time to digest it now, I think that’s less a failing of the film itself and more a feature of its main character. Maud is pretty, pretty sure that she has a rather close relationship with God and that everyone else should as well. But doubt about her own spiritual bona fides is never far away. So she enjoys some indulgences, then she castigates herself, and the final climax enters into another transcendent dimension entirely, as a religiously minded movie like this one is wont to do. Ultimately, I believe Saint Maud wants to teach us that we should have our moments of ecstasy, because people are going to keep succumbing to cancers and other horrible fates and we might as well look skyward while we can.

Saint Maud is Recommended If You Like: The VVitch, Suspiria, Speaking in tongues

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Caretakers

This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’ Fails Utterly at Its Supposed Purpose, But is Somewhat Entertaining in Other Ways

Leave a comment

CREDIT: Kerry Brown/Bleecker Street

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2017.

Starring: Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Pryce, Simon Callow, Morfydd Clark, Anna Murphy

Director: Bharat Nalluri

Running Time: 104 Minutes

Rating: PG for Intense Childhood Poverty Memories

Release Date: November 22, 2017 (Limited)

Did you know that Charles Dickens is the man to thank for Christmas in its current form? I am sure that many of you are aware how his novel A Christmas Carol has had an outsize impact on yuletide-celebrating cultures, but apparently his influence goes so much further. It turns out that his tale of Ebenezer Scrooge singlehandedly changed December 25 from a recognized, but inconsequential blip on the calendar into the biggest day of the year. Or so The Man Who Invented Christmas would have us believe…

Here’s the thing, though: beside its title and epilogue, The Man Who Invented Christmas does essentially nothing to support its supposed thesis. When reviewing cinema, I ask, “What is this movie trying to be, and is it successful?” This is a distinct question from “What is the director (or any of the other filmmakers) trying to do?” because sometimes a great film can be made accidentally. (Cult favorite The Room is the perfect such example.) But when a movie states its purpose so directly and then completely fails to even attempt to live up to that purpose, it is hard not to get frustrated.

All that being said, it is not as if The Man Who Invented Christmas is an hour and a half of nothing happening. In fact, much of it is actually a fairly fascinating examination of the creative process. Dickens (a fleet-witted, buzzy Dan Stevens) promises his publishers that he can complete his new Christmas-themed book in a grueling six weeks in time for a holiday release. As he writes, he is visited by what appear to be actual physical manifestations of the characters he is currently conjuring up: the Cratchits, Jacob Marley, and of course, Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer, quite naturally slotting into all that humbug).

The parts of this film that are essentially a two-hander between Stevens and Plummer (with a few supporting Carol-ers) work quite well, and I think I would have really liked it if that had been the whole movie. But there’s also a fair amount of business to do with Dickens’ tumultuous personal life, much of it regarding his destitute father John (Jonathan Pryce), whom Charles alternately regards as a leech and a kindly old man. There is enough complicated psychology here to render a more straightforward biopic that could be a tough but rewarding watch. But as these moments are mostly there just to provide context, they do not go much deeper than surface level.

The Man Who Invented Christmas is Recommended If You Like: A Christmas Carol completism, Anything with Dan Stevens and/or Christopher Plummer

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Deadlines