A fair go at Asian horror for those who don’t normally delve into such waters…
As Night Watch was the first celluloid of the macabre to come from Russia, The Maid arrives with the distinction of being the first horror film to come out of Singapore – breaking some home country box-office records along the way. I’m not a big fan of what some call J-horror (Asian horror) – Ju-On, Ringu – any of it really. I don’t knock it, as I respect its place in horror cinema – I just don’t identify with it. However, after coming across The Maid‘s synopsis while browsing some lesser known titles, I became curious and decided to buck the trend and give this baby a shot.
18 year old Rosa arrives at Mr and Mrs Teo’s home in Singapore and assumes the maid position, in hopes of making some money in the big city. She intends to send the money home to her sick younger brother. A good girl, they accept her with warmth, introduce her to friends, and treat her like part of the family. With no delay, Rosa is taught about the Chinese seventh month, when angry spirits escape hell and walk among the living. There are certain ritual precautions that are taken – the offerings of burning money and leaving the ashes on the doorstep, along with food and other sacrificed gifts. Never look over your shoulder if you hear you name whispered on the street at night, and the like. Rosa, like every other young skeptic in the world, disregards the old superstitions, and unwittingly becomes a lure for some very unsettled ghosts and one restless spirit in particular.
Soon another young woman on the street catches Rosa’s eye. This stranger follows and watches closely from afar. Her name is Wati, and soon they sit on a bench and talk. She tells Rosa that she looks almost exactly like the maid before her – a young girl named Esther. She even wears her clothes. What’s going on? What started as a confusing whirlwind of previously senseless visions and hauntings starts to slowly come together and make sense. And its at this point that Wari tells Rosa to ask Mrs. Teo who Esther is. Unfortunately for Rosa, she does. Explanations to all the visions solidify, walls come crashing down, and all of this comes together and gels into a realistically creepy and satisfying climax.
Young Rosa is played innocently enough by Alessandra de Rossi (Hide & Seek). This young actress carried this film from beginning to end. Her look of naivety and curiosity just seemed natural and realistic. She was as pretty as she was professionally dramatic and sensitive in her performance. This isn’t some hard to watch, dry monotonous crap – Alessandra delivered the impression that this was all pretty much real and going on.
Lucas Jodoigne’s (Men in White, Hide & Seek) cinematography is vivid and eye catching, with odd angles and cultural scenery. Plot wise, what unravels is a familiar ghost story everyone can identify with. It is, however, partially guilty of tying in the typical J-horror long black hair, dark eyed, dead faced spectres, and the now stereotypical children, which has been seriously overplayed in films like The Grudge and anything remotely like it from Japan. Some of the jolts are surprising, others get monotonous and predictable, but the majority of it is weird and ghostly with screeching string sections and loud outbursts to try and make you jump.
Its really on the better half of decent. You don’t have to be an Asian horror buff or even a fan of foreign films to like this movie. In fact, Id recommend The Maid with confidence that many of you will find it worth the time it if you can get to the ending. Spoken in English while being subtitled, watching it makes it easier for the quickly-confused than a film like Night Watch. This added effort allows you to take your eyes off the words so you can soak in some of the interesting scenery and environment. Joe Ng puts together a grinding score with chilling sound effects. Very light on the gore and injury facet, director Kelvin Tong manages to weave a simple, well spun ghost story with The Maid that comes together before your eyes as an apparition would down the hall – in vague pieces at first, coming to form in the end.