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Written By:

Luke Spafford

Fire up your streaming service of choice and somewhere near the bottom of endless categories, past the ‘suggestions for you’ and further on than Bob Ross you will find the living fire channel. Press play and there, in eye-popping HD or retina melting 4K, is a roaring log fire. This will play indefinitely, nay until the embers of civilisation wink out of existence, basking your room in a heady glow with all but the life-sustaining warmth that fire breathes.

This brings us neatly to The Housemaid. The film’s credentials are impressive, written and directed by noted playwright Derek Nguyen, The Housemaid is reportedly Vietnam’s highest ever grossing horror. Nguyen’s direction is solid, even making the eroticism of the piece work. Though a few slightly lingering shots leave you feeling like he may have a touch of the Tarantinos.

Lil’ orphan Linh is hired as a housemaid at the rubber plantation home of Captain Laurent in 50s Indochina, where the locals are still very much second rate citizens to the wealthy western landowners/grabbers. When Ol’ Cap is shot and saved by eastern medicine, it falls to Linh to aid him through his convalescence. What neither realises is that our old friend the ‘dead wife turned mad by the death of her baby’ is lurking around the corner, looking for all the world like a Korn fan walking home from a gig in the pouring rain.

The look of the film is its high point. A little like if Samara crawled out of that TV and onto the set of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The forest scenes are so well shot and lit, every leaf and inch of mutilated tree bark sings. The Captain’s home betrays its opulence with curtains fraying at the edges, signposting the beginning of the end of its colonialist origins. Cinematographer Sam Chase is the star here, having started out as an electrician; he shows an incredible talent that needs to be seen.

And then, alas, we have the plot. We really don’t need another two hours of the dearly departed terrorising her husband and his new beau. In fact, cut out the horror element and you are left with something approaching a sweet love story, albeit a re-tread in itself of a pseudo-Miss Saigon. The characterisations are heavy-handed. Here, the shy maid, the alcoholic Captain, the downtrodden cook and the envious unstoppable spectre are all drawn with the heavy hand of a crayon-wielding toddler. The scares are there, but all too often in the Hollywood style, rather than anything approaching the brooding menace the movie is aching for.

So, it’s our old friend style over substance again. Like our 4K fire channel, it’s all about the look and lacks any depth or even warmth, which is an odd criticism to make of a horror movie but you still need to feel something for your leads’ to even begin to invest in the story or lack thereof. The Housemaid is certainly worth your attention but probably in a few years’ time, when you’ve finally caught up on all the other incredible genre stuff being made at the moment. Or for the same effect, try watching the fire channel, while listening to The Exorcist soundtrack and spraying water in your face.


Luke Spafford

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