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Spoiler alert! Contains major details about the final scene of horror movie "Saint Maud."
She was blinded by the light.
In A24's piously petrifying "Saint Maud" (now streaming on Epix), a lonely hospice nurse named Maud (Morfydd Clark) strives to spread the good word to her reluctant new ward, the cancer-stricken choreographer Amanda (Jennifer Ehle). What transpires is a devoutly demented trip into Maud's psyche, as she goes to bloody extremes to try and prove her faith in God.
In the movie's first half, Maud endeavors to save Amanda's soul through prayer – an almost sexual sensation for the solemn young caretaker. She continues her mission by trying to drive a wedge between Amanda and her hedonistic lover (Lily Frazer), but is swiftly fired after overstepping her boundaries.
Following a harrowing night out that ends in rape, Maud thinks she hears the voice of God, who urges her to further show her devotion. She returns to Amanda's house and – spoiler alert! – proceeds to stab her to death, convinced the sick woman is actually the devil.
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Now sporting radiant angel wings, Maud walks onto a beach in white robes and rosary beads, and douses herself with propane. "Glory to God," she utters, lighting herself on fire as onlookers kneel before her.
"It's her ascension," writer/director Rose Glass says. "She thinks she's going to finally be connected and reunited with God. She's operating on a slightly different plane by that point. She's conscious enough to physically be (setting herself on fire), but in terms of what the real-life consequences are, I don't think she has any real grasp of what they are. She's badly in need of help."
Glass envisioned Maud as a sort of female Travis Bickle, whose desire to "purify" the world results in a murderous rampage in Martin Scorsese's 1976 classic "Taxi Driver." Like Robert De Niro's iconic, Maud struggles to socialize with people and process past trauma.
"The film in my head was always a tragedy," Glass says. "Essentially she gets what she wants at the end, which is to be recognized. For the first time in the film, people are finally noticing her but it's too late."
"It's very clear to her by the end that the world (rejects her), and no matter how much she tries, she can't be a part of it," Clark adds. "The thing I find tragic about Maud is the striving and conviction. That conviction at the end is the worst part of it."
The most horrifying moment in "Saint Maud" comes in the movie's last few seconds. After a long shot of Maud serenely basking in the heavenly flames, the movie suddenly cuts to her frightening reality, as Maud screams in agony while her flesh violently burns.
Glass knew very early in the writing process that she wanted to end the film with a major shock.
"It's done deliberately in a way that's meant to take you aback," she says. "It's a fun one to watch with audiences. Before the lockdown, there were quite vocal reactions at the end, which is very gratifying for a nervous filmmaker. Not many people shared their theories with me, but I'm sort of happy to just leave it up to the individual. I always think it's very unambiguous."
Clark has seen the film three times and it's "shocked me every time," she says. The actress recalls one screening in Auckland, New Zealand, when "a guy came up to me afterwards and was like, 'You know, that split moment at the end when she's actually burning in hell?' And I was like, 'What?! No!' It's really interesting seeing how other people see it. I was thinking, 'Oh my gosh, she really might be.' "
In actuality, the scene was much less terrifying to shoot. They initially used a stunt woman who lit herself on fire, before Glass decided on a closeup of Clark's face with added CGI flames. But the water Clark poured on herself (as a stand-in for propane) was all very real. Shooting on a windy beach in England, it got extremely chilly after a few takes.
"I think the physical uncomfortableness helped during filming, because Maud is in huge discomfort constantly," Clark says. "The whole thing was so exciting that I didn't really care about those things, even though my feet were so cold."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Saint Maud' ending: Why A24's shocking horror movie is a 'tragedy'