Derek Nguyen/ Vietnam/ 2016/ 105 mins
Available on dual-forma Blu-ray/ DVD from Mon 19 Feb 2018
You sit down after a hard day at work and decide you want to lose yourself with a piece of entertainment. The problem? You’re not quite sure if you want to laugh, cry or cower in fear. Alas, you need worry no more! Simply get yourself a copy of Derek Nguyen’s The Housemaid and see what happens; God only knows what range of emotions you’ll feel as you watch the story unfold. The reason? The film itself isn’t even that sure as to what it wants to be; a confusion that works both for and against it.
The year is 1953. Linh (Kate Nhung) is an orphaned Vietnamese girl who turns up at the gorgeous and overbearing Sa Cat plantation seeking work. When Linh ends up falling for the French plantation owner Sebastien (Jean-Michel Richaud), things kick into gear, complete with jealous partners and vengeful spirits. Over the next 105 minutes, this premise ends up taking the form of gothic horror, period drama, illicit love story and back again. It is – to put it mildly – completely bonkers.
In 2015, Guillermo del Toro tackled a similar tale with the gorgeous Crimson Peak and first-time director Nguyen should be commended for diving head first into such grand territory. However, where del Toro’s experience worked to make the scares scary and the drama dramatic, The Housemaid just comes up with an awkward mishmash of moments which don’t click together. Take, for example, the introduction of Rosie Fellner’s Madeleine – a predictable plot point in which the film invests so much time, that it drops any mention of ghost and ghouls for what feels like an eternity. When they do finally return, we’re treated to a Christine homage which looks no more believable (maybe even less so) than scenes achieved by John Carpenter 35 years ago.
Things, however, never get truly horrific; when they’re bad, at least they’re enjoyably bad. Sam Chase’s cinematography shows off some gorgeous talent and it’s easy to see why lead star Nhung received a Special Mention for Acting at the 2017 Los Angeles Film Festival. Yet this does not negate the fact that the film is a mess. A watchable and entertaining mess? Sure, but a mess all the same.