This article contains spoilers for Saint Maud
In the closing moments of Saint Maud, Rose Glass's chilling horror debut, the movie's titular martyr takes a trip to the grey seaside which has been churning nauseously beside the sickly beach town of Scarborough throughout the film.
After savagely murdering Amanda, the retired dancer she has been caring for, and whose soul she is on a mission to save, a pair of gold, shimmering wings sprout from Maud's back. We then see her dressed in white and trudging toward the seaside with a plastic bag in hand. The scene flits between reality and the Holy vision Maud is experiencing: looking up to the sky before pouring a white liquid over her head. Serenely she says "Glory to God" while smiling
Then the spell breaks and we get a few horrifying frames of reality: her flesh melting from her setting herself alight while a crowd watch in horror.
It's a moment which Glass describes as "a nice short, sharp shock", and one which she says is intended to be proof of what has been going on all along. It mirrors other moments of the film where we witness the distance between reality and where Maud floats above it. As with the scene where Maud tries to exorcise the daemon which takes hold of Amanda, only to have us see a frail woman slashed to death in her bed when Maud comes to, Glass's film is about the dark recesses in the human mind which we retreat to.
"I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many people still think it feels very ambiguous," she says in relation to the ending of the film. "The burning and snatch of reality was always how the film was going to end, and I’m hoping it happens so gradually that you don’t realise how far she’s fallen from reality until you’re there, and you have this very hard juxtaposition."
Glass has said the concept she came up for when selling the film was Travis Bickle as a young Catholic woman living in an English seaside town, and she also said in selling the film that she wants people to come away from Saint Maud aware that they've been complicit in Maud's journey into darkness.
“I’m curious about what makes people do things that on the surface seem inexplicable. I don’t think those things happen overnight,” she says. “I thought if I could get an audience to go on the same journey as the character then hopefully they’d understand."
The ending, then, is a shocking reminder of how much we have allowed ourselves to creep into Maud's mind, the "sharp shock" of reality both horrifying in the rawness of the flesh burning, but also in the reminder of what has been happening while we were distracted by Maud's imagination. It is this moment in which the true darkness of the film comes into focus, and where every moment which has come before is more chilling for the fact that the horror has all been inside Maud's mind.
Glass intends the film to be a gradual decline which the audience accompanies Maud on, egging her on as she tips into madness. "One of the execs asked how I want people to feel at the end and I said 'guilty'," Glass says. "You’ve been having a bit of a giggle thinking ‘isn’t she strange’, but anybody who does anything as extreme as that must be suffering. It leads up to this cathartic moment with the character and then smacks you around the face with it."
"That’s definitely been the most exciting part," she adds of watching the film with an audience. "Hearing people gasp and sitting there in the dark just going ‘yes’"
'Saint Maud' is out now
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