Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Housemaid Could Have Used More Venom: A Film Review

*full disclosure: an online screener of this film was provided by the film's United Kingdom distributor, Eureka Entertainment.

Director/writer: Derek Nguyen.

Cast: Kate Nhung, Jean-Michel Richaud, Kim Xuan, Rosie Fellner, Kien An and Svitlana Kovalenko.

The Housemaid aka Cô Haû Gaí is another cross-cultural film. From director Derek Nguyen (Buster's Mal Heart), this film was shot in Vietnam. It hosts both English and Vietnamese languages as an orphan girl searches for her path. Very slowly paced, The Housemaid is not essentially a horror film as Linh (Kate Nhung) ingratiates herself on a French plantation. The Housemaid is a blend of genres. And, the use of so many genres here upsets the film's tone. It is from period piece, to drama, to romance and into the horror realm. The film bounces all over the place. Only foreign film fans or fans of Asian cinema will enjoy this outing.

To get the most negative out of the way, The Housemaid's pacing is much too slow. Acts I and II are truly a grind to get through. Very little conflict and tension are offered in these early scenes. Instead, the filmmakers rely on drawn out scenes and settings to tell the story. A ghost makes an appearance, occasionally. But, her presence is very much tertiary. The lack of an up tempo pace threatened to put one viewer to sleep, a couple of times. Patient film watchers will need a strong pot of coffee, to get to the more exciting bits.

Meanwhile, the film's story focuses on Linh. This is a woman who is not as she appears to be. On the outside, she comes across as a quiet orphan. But inside, there may be a viper, ready to strike. In order to not reveal too much, spoilers will be avoided here. Other characters are hiding a murderous past. Thematically, The Housemaid focuses on French colonialism, from the '50s. These were violent times, when the Vietnamese workers were exploited for their cheap labour. Thus, there is a division between the upper, white class and the lower, Asian class. This creates a bit of tension between the two classes, leading to more and more murder.

The Housemaid takes on too many genres and too much material. Thus, the film's tone is not unified. The first two acts deal with dramatic elements. Sebastien (Jean-Michel Richaud) is recovering from the loss of his wife; her ghost still haunts the plantation. Meanwhile, a romantic connection is struck up between Linh and this head of the household. Then, a third woman is thrown into the mix, Sebastien's fiancee - Madeleine (Rosie Fellner). Lucky guy. The ghost and subsequent haunting adds to the film's horror elements. But, they are never central and only really appear in the film's final third. In the meantime, the focus is on the more romantic and dramatic story elements. This may sit well will some viewers. Most horror fans will not be satisfied by the five to ten minutes of thrills here. Through the film's three acts there is this bouncing back between lighter and darker ones. It is all a bit unsettling and fractured.

Derek Nguyen's The Housemaid will be released in the United Kingdom (Feb. 19th, 2018), before showing in more territories; Eureka Entertainment will handle the release. A very slow approach to storytelling, the payoff is not enough here. The horror comes as a flash and flurry for a few minutes in the final act. Along the way, Nguyen focuses on the film being a period piece, or a romantic interlude. Drama is prevalent in the earlier two acts. And, tension or conflict could have been introduced much earlier. As it is, The Housemaid could barely be called a horror film. Though, a jealous ghost does appear in a few scenes. The Housemaid is more for fans of foreign films, or those curious about Asian cinema and their themes.

Overall: 6.5 out of 10.

A trailer, for the film, is available here: A The Housemaid Trailer

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