UK Release Date: 19th February 2018
Runtime: 105 minutes
Director: Derek Nguyen
Writer: Derek Nguyen
Starring: Kate Nhung, Jean-Michel Richaud, Kim Xuan, Rosie Fellner, Svitlana Kovalenko, Kien An
Synopsis: When a young woman working as a housemaid begins to get close to her master, it brings forth the vengeful spirit of his wife.
The world of gothic horror is rich and compelling, capable of adapting to different time periods and varied layers of realism. Just a few years ago, Guillermo del Toro‘s lavish romance Crimson Peak luxuriated in the bright colours and cramped corners of the gothic landscape and, now, Vietnamese haunted house tale The Housemaid has arrived on Blu-ray in the UK thanks to the fine folk at Eureka Entertainment. It’s an elegantly crafted horror movie, when it remembers its genre, but it often loses sight of what it is supposed to be and wanders off like a bored toddler in search of something different.
This is a film that unfolds in the 1950s amongst the remnants of a defunct rubber plantation, now home to French soldier Captain Sebastien Laurent (Jean-Michel Richaud), who is in Vietnam fighting the First Indochinese War. Poverty-stricken young woman Linh (Kate Nhung) arrives at the house seeking employment and is taken in by the existing staff. Sebastien is injured and Linh ends up caring for him, which brings the two people closer together. This seems to awaken the spirit of Madame Camille (Svitlana Kovalenko) – Sebastien’s deceased wife.
First-time director Derek Nguyen creates an enviable atmosphere of fear with The Housemaid. The gothic production design is gorgeous and Nguyen helms the scare sequences with admirable restraint and patience, conjuring some memorable jolts, shivers and jumps. The plantation is described as being “fertilised by the bodies of workers” and every frame of the movie’s early stages exudes that kind of inherent menace.
The film, however, has an unpleasant habit of occasionally forgetting that it’s supposed to be a horror movie. At the midway point, it takes a bizarre sideways step into melodrama and romance. The arrival of Sebastien’s beau Rosie Fellner is a real spanner in the works, particularly given her on the nose dialogue about how he is “becoming one of them” as a result of his closeness with Linh. Kate Nhung’s performance is as innocent and inquisitive as a gothic protagonist should be, but she struggles in some of the more emotional moments.
There’s a schizophrenic struggle for identity at the heart of The Housemaid, but it excels when it focuses on crafting its eerie tone. As a horror movie, it’s a nicely staged work of tension, culminating in a very impressive twist ending. Or, at least, it would have been an impressive ending, were it not for the inevitable horror movie rollback on that twist in order to provide a final scare. As a debut film, there’s plenty to suggest Nguyen will be a genre voice to watch.
Just a trailer here, so very slim pickings on the extra features front.
Pop or Poop?
Derek Nguyen’s solid ghost story The Housemaid is an interesting slice of genre fun, even though it doesn’t seem entirely sure of what that genre is. It’s on sure footing when it plays to the horror crowd, but wobbles slightly when it tries to make a play for drama and romance.
The scares are potent and memorable, helped by some decent performances and beautiful production design, and it almost manages to stick the landing.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
The Housemaid is available on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK now, courtesy of Eureka Entertainment.