Taking place in Vietnam, in 1953, “The Housemaid” tells the story of Linh, a young girl looking for work after loosing everything in the bombings in the Indochinese War. After talking with some of the local folk, Linh arrives at the rubber plantation called “Sa-Cat”, after applying for the housemaid position, she barely ends up been hired on a trial basis.
Since her arrival at Sa-Cat, Linh starts to hear strange whispers on the mansion, and her eyes seems to be playing tricks on her, since she believes to see someone roaming the corridors, when nobody is supposed be around. Soon after that, Linh learns the dark story of the plantation, and that most of the locals tend to avoid it due rumors that many workers in the past died of torture and abuse at the hands of previous owners of the plantation. However, is only after Linh meets Captain Sebastian, the french owner of Sa-Cat, that her life starts to be in danger, since Madame Camille, Sebastian’s deceased wife, has returned from the grave, infuriated by the attention the girl has been receiving.
“The Housemaid” is interesting and entertaining, specially for a film coming from a country that does not release that many horror titles at all (In contrast with China and Japan, where horror fans are most used to get their Asian horror fix) Still I would label this movie as more of a Drama with a supernatural tones than horror (Think more of “Crimson Peak” and not so much of “Insidious”), but still manages to create a tense atmosphere and to give us a couple of scares. Unfortunately, it also has some moments that feel tired and too common because we have seen it too much recently in occidental films: as you might guess, I am talking about the over use of jump scares, some of them lead to nothing, others do not even have any reason to be there.
The film is well shot and the story takes its time to let us learn about the history of the plantation as well of the nature of the people working there. Without being preachy, the film also shows the necessary political context of the times so we can understand the though situations some characters went trough, and where the monsters are really hiding.
At times the movie can feel slow, and there are a couple of scenes that I felt could be edited to keep the story more engaging, still I think the audience patience is rewarded with the conclusion on the third act. We also need to be a little forgiving with the CGI effects at times, because while they are not awful, sometimes they do look very fake and can take some people out of the story. The strength of the film, however, lies in the characters and the acting, and in that department, I had no problems. Every person in the main cast did a great job at bringing to life their characters.
In conclusion, people that are really into horror and expect tons of blood and gore might leave the theater somewhat disappointed, those who seek a Gothic thriller might like it a lot more, specially because the story is told in manner that we don’t see that frequently. For those that like supernatural dramas, taboos and forbidden romances, this might just be what you are looking for.
“The Housemaid” was written and directed by Derek Nguyen, with Kate Nhung, Jean-Michel Richaud, Kim Xuan, Phi Phung, Kien An, Svitlana Kovalenko and Rosie Fellner in the cast. The film will be released on VOD and select theaters on February 16 via IFC Midnight.