Director: Derek Nguyen
Writer: Derek Nguyen
Cast: Nhung Kate, Jean-Michel Richaud, Xuan Kim
Running time: 105mins
What’s the story: Vietnam, 1953. An orphaned young woman finds work as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation. When she and the French plantation owner begin a relationship, ghosts from the past return.
What’s the verdict: Derek Nguyen’s confident feature debut, the third highest grossing horror movie in Vietnam’s history, proudly wears its genre finery. But, amidst the J-horror and K-thriller borrowings it boasts surprises of its own.
With Nguyen permitting himself a healthy ration of spectral jolts lifted out of the Ringu and Ju-on playbook, at surface level this is a traditional tale of ghostly goings-on. Particularly as there is more than passing homage to the 2012 Daniel Radcliffe starring Woman in Black. Plus Evil Dead style wraith effects and a killer car indebted to Stephen King’s Christine.
Linh, (a winning Nhung), orphaned after her family is killed in an air raid, seeks employment at the large rubber plantation Sa-Cat. Schooled in servitude by stern-faced head housekeeper Mrs. Han (Xuan), she is instructed never to ask after the dead wife and child of the resident owner, French naval Captain Sebastien (Richaud).
But, as Linh and Sebastien’s mutual attraction blossoms, strange forces besiege the large isolated house.
Lifting The Housemaid out the been-there-jumped-at-that file is its 1953 setting, a time when France’s doomed colonial experiment was gasping its last in the Indochina War. Rarely explored in horror cinema, this period is prime fodder for tales of vengeful spirits.
Sebastien’s plantation, with its slave connotations, is lost in time as ghosts of the past walk the surrounding woods. All evocatively realised by Sam Chase’s lush cinematography
Nguyen’s script weaves in politics (key supporting characters have shady pasts), Gothic romance (Du Maurier’s Rebecca also haunts the story) and a murder-mystery (the story is told as flashback after a key character is slain, with plenty of suspects from which to choose).
The stately pacing has received critical grumbling, but, The Housemaid harkens back to a more sedate style of ghost story. A style where atmosphere and doomed longing are more important than gore. And the script still boasts one unexpected final surprise late in the day.
Central performances nicely play the romantic and horror aspects of the plot, although Western supporting players suffer the stiffness that often occurs when non-locals pop up in Far Eastern genre pictures.
Likely to be confused with Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden because of title similarities (or indeed the 2010 Korean film also entitled The Housemaid), The Housemaid is nonetheless a tidy little chiller all its own.
DISC AND EXTRAS
The Housemaid is part of Eureka Entertainment’s newly launched Montage Pictures sub-label, delivering interesting movies from new directors.
The Blu-ray transfer captures the deep blue-blacks of nighttime scenes and the warm glows of daytime sequences, doing justice to Chase’s photography. A trailer is the single support feature.