This exploration of the intersection between hypervigilant-but-misguided devotion and the root causes of social anxiety joins the growing pantheon of brilliant new horror movies coming out of studio A24, like “Hereditary” and “The Witch.” Like those other movies (as well as Roman Polanski’s oppressive “The Tenant”), it has a rather claustrophobic vibe, which allows the audience to focus on the dynamics being established among the characters and how they’re impacted by lead character Maud’s growing confusion over her own faith. As her belief veers into delusions and sociopathic impulses, the plot begins to solidify and chug along with all the intensity of a runaway train headed for a brick wall, and it’s riveting to watch. Morfydd Clark is absolutely terrific in the lead role, able to get the audience interested in her plight but without ever sacrificing the character’s integrity at the altar of likability, which makes the scenes where she’s trying so hard to fit in and to connect to others even more poignant and their denouement all the more heartbreaking. She’s well-matched by a never-better, Oscar-worthy Jennifer Ehle, who, while looking like the lovechild of Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver, manages to dig her claws into her role so thoroughly that you’re just as interested in her as Maud is. By the time the movie arrives at its climax and starts hitting you with twist after twist (without taking you out of the experience nor overwhelming you or losing sight of its own themes), you realize just how brilliant and layered the entire movie is; much like Brian De Palma’s “Carrie,” “Saint Maud” is able to weave a terribly sad and genuinely scary story about the consequences of abuse, the slippery slope between devotion and pathology, and the lengths to which people will go to overcome their crushing loneliness.
Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)