The Movie Waffler IFI Horrorthon 2017 Review - THE HOUSEMAID | The Movie Waffler

IFI Horrorthon 2017 Review - THE HOUSEMAID

the housemaid review
In colonial Vietnam, a local woman takes a job as maid on a French estate that appears to be haunted.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Derek Nguyen

Starring: Kate Nhung, Jean-Michel Richaud, Kim Xuan, Svitlana Kovalenko, Rosie Fellner

the housemaid poster

Just as every culture created its own gods, so to were monsters manufactured across the globe. This has been a gift to horror fans, as if you grow tired of the usual Anglo-Saxon ghosts and ghouls, there's a whole world of horrors to be explored. Over the last couple of decades, hungry horrorhounds have increasingly turned to Asia for thrills, but when we refer to Asian horror, we're most likely talking about the product of the polished film industries of Japan and South Korea. The Housemaid comes from Vietnam, a nation not known for its cinema, let alone its horror movies, but there's enough evidence in writer-director Derek Nguyen's supernatural thriller to suggest the South East Asian nation is capable of punching above its weight with its genre fare.

the housemaid

Set in 1953, as the Vietnamese are beginning to mount a violent campaign of resistance against their colonial French occupiers, The Housemaid introduces us to Linh (Nhung Kate), a young woman who takes the titular job at the rubber plantation estate of French military Captain Sebastien Laurent (Jean-Michel Richaud), who has returned from military service to nurse his wounds.

"I wasn't expecting Downton Abbey," a disgruntled audience member was heard muttering during my festival screening of The Housemaid. Like Guillermo del Toro's Crimson Peak, Nguyen's film is as much a classic gothic melodrama as it is a horror movie. It owes as much to Hitchcock's Rebecca as to the J-horror shockers it models its long-haired, slow moving supernatural entity on. In charge of Laurent's estate is a Mrs Danvers figure known as Mrs Han (Kim Xuan), who warns Linh about the rumours of the plantation being haunted by the vengeful spirit of Laurent's dead wife Camille. When Linh falls for the handsome captain and is promoted from maid to mistress, it appears to reawaken the ghost of Camille, with various supporting characters meeting grisly ends.

the housemaid

The Housemaid boasts all the slickness and production value of its Japanese and Korean cousins, but there's a charming innocence about Nguyen's decidedly old-fashioned storytelling, which avoids the explicit violence Asian horror is known for. Remove the the J-horror influenced effects and it begins to resemble something Hollywood might have put out at the dawn of technicolour, possibly a side effect of Vietnamese viewers' lack of exposure to American cinema from the second half of the last century.

This innocence sometimes give way to amateurishness however, and the impressive cinematography and production design is offset by some second rate acting. Presumably made with one eye on the American market, The Housemaid has its characters substitute the French language for English, and its white actors adopt accents more reminiscent of Devon than Deauville.

the housemaid

Pulling from a mix of western and eastern sources, The Housemaid can at times feel excessively derivative, but the addition of its backdrop of colonial unrest makes it a unique experience in Asian horror. If the idea of a romance between a rich European white man and his Asian servant seems initially problematic, worry not, as there's more than meets the eye to a film that doesn't hold back its political stance.