You prayed for spoilers and here they are. Very spoilery about Saint Maud and its shocking ending.
Religion, sex and death is one of the ultimate horror threesomes, and Saint Maud brings them together in a devastating exploration of the effects of one woman’s breakdown.
“No one sees what they don’t want to,” says the dying Amanda to her private nurse, Maud. She’s talking about a friend, but it is just as much about Maud’s inability to think rationally about her beliefs.
There is little levity in Saint Maud though there is levitation, as Maud’s grip on reality slips away. She even sports angel wings as the film draws to a close, while in the closing moments of the film the sky opens and what looks like a light-filled route to heaven is revealed.
Saint Maud begins and ends with a dead woman on a bed, covered in blood. The first is the patient in the hospital where Maud used to work, whose death drove Maud to leave the NHS and start working as a private nurse. The second is Amanda, brutally and frantically stabbed to death by Maud.
Maud has come to religion after that hospital death, looking for a spiritual home. Though really, religion gives her explanations and outlets for the actions she is ashamed of: her self-harm, her crush on Amanda, her jealousy of Amanda’s lover Carol, and her envy of the easy way other people form friendships.
For Maud, pain becomes a release and an expression of love. Her self-mortification is horrendous to watch, as she uses her physical body to prove her commitment to God: sticking needles through her insoles then placing them in her trainers, she stands up, steeling herself to push her feet down into them. Then she walks carefully through the town. “Never waste your pain,” is both Maud’s mantra to herself, and her demand of the seriously ill Amanda.
It’s at Amanda’s birthday party that Maud snaps, and we see the anger beneath. Amanda tells her friends she knows what Maud has been doing, trying to send her lover Carol away, and humiliates her for trying to be Amanda’s saviour. Maud is mocked by the partygoers, who stick a napkin on her head to make her look like a “typical” saint, and then after Amanda asks how “human frivolity” could compete with her relationship with God, Maud slaps her across the face.
Losing her job and Amanda is a trigger for a dangerous downward spiral.
She complains to God that she know has nothing, and self-doubt sends her back briefly to her old life. She gets dressed up and goes out to a bar, drinking by herself. It’s as soulless an experience as it presumably used to be, before she found God; her night ends with Maud giving a hand job to one stranger by the emergency exit and then going home with another for a one night stand.
One day she tracks down Amanda’s new carer, Esther, and pumps her for information, only to discover that not only have Esther and Amanda been getting on well but that kind of quickly-built bond between private nurse and dying patient is common and valuable.
Maud’s levitation comes after agonising contortions on the floor (we never find out if she is physically ill, though she wonders it herself) rather than the orgasmic ecstasy she previously achieved through her relationship with God.
The often childlike Maud, with no one to guide her, is increasingly caught up in the external imagery of religion and even its tropes. She begins to wrap herself in old beige bedsheets, teemed with a chunky crucifix necklace. At last she looks the part, a traditional holy person, another way of showing her devotion and difference to the world.
God tells her he has one last test for her, and Maud returns to the gloomy house. Amanda finally admits to her that she faked her own response in the episode of religious ecstasy they shared, and that there is no God. Amanda then crawls across the bed before talking in Satan’s voice, leading the terrified Maud to kill her. Amanda dies with a gurgle and a splutter.
After killing Amanda, Maud goes home and waits until morning. Then she wraps herself in a clean sheet and walks down to the beach. There she stands on the shore and pours flammable liquid over herself. While beachgoers stand aghast, Maud clicks a lighter and is enveloped in flames. For a few seconds she imagines herself to be in the throws of celestial joy – we’ve already seen the sky open up above, a bright light shining through – with passers-by dropping to their knees in reverence.
Then suddenly the last, terrifying and heartbreaking shot: Maud’s face twisted in pain, her skin blackened, surrounded by fire, as she screams in agony – all beatific mysticism gone.
Saint Maud is out on digital, DVD, blu-ray and limited edition steelbook in the UK now.