The Housemaid [Cô Hầu Gái] (2016) – Film Review
Director: Derek Nguyen
Cast: Kate Nhung, Jean-Michel Richaud, Rosie Fellner
by Jake Penn
The Housemaid was first released in Vietnam in September 2016, then made its Western premiere at the 2017 Los Angeles Film Festival. Set in 1953 during the Indo-Chinese war, we join a young, attractive woman named Linh entering through the gates of a French and very much haunted rubber plantation owned by wounded Frenchman Captain Laurent (Jean-Michel Richaud).
Linh is looking for work and is hired to help at the enormous complex, carrying out remedial tasks under the supervision of three other concerned staff members. Although our protagonist receives an abundance of warnings she passively accepts them and gets on with the backbreaking work her new job entails. But why, you ask? The general outlook of ‘let’s find out shall we?’ lingers and frustrates the audience – but for good reason.
The other staff members; the comical Mrs Ngo, the stern Mrs Han and the grounds-keeper help the storyline progress as they give us insight into the historical background and events that have led up to the current point in the film.
Immediately, the audience gets the feeling that something is not right, possibly due to the bloody and slightly gory flashback of a stabbed figure behind a veiled four poster bed, or just a general feeling that everything is just a bit weird.
There is much to admire about this film, not just in the way it is made, but also down to the finer details. As it was filmed in Vietnam, Nguyen conjures great aesthetics throughout the film, panning across a verdant Vietnamese landscape, and this helps create a real feeling of isolation for our unsuspecting housemaid. It also reveals a stark contrast between the calm of the outside, compared to the mayhem that takes place within the walls.
The movement and appearance of the supernatural elements of this film could be closely linked with that of Guillermo Del Toro’s Crimson Peak, as everything is jilted and fractious, only adding to the panic experienced by everyone involved.
Another great victory for the film comes from orchestrator Jerome Leroy. After an illustrious career in the music department, including the Hunger Games franchise, he manages to capture ever modicum of terror and dread experienced by the characters. Whether they are witnessing a couple hanging by their necks from the nearest tree or the fleeting glimpses of a spectre making its way across the landing, no stone is left unturned and every opportunity is seized in a cleverly thought-out musical score.
A huge twist leaves many loose ends and questions hanging, and although the impact of the ending delivers, it doesn’t quite reach its full potential.
With elements such as the romance, horror and the supernatural rolling into one package, attention is needed throughout the film as the smaller details are necessary to understand the bigger picture. With the language flitting from Vietnamese to English and back again, this film will either completely immerse you or leave you on the fence wondering why things are happening.
I found myself leaving the lights on in my flat, so as to ward off the bloodthirsty Madame Camille (daft I know, but you can never be too sure).
‘The Housemaid’ is released on DVD & Blu-ray by Eureka Entertainment, £12.99