The Housemaid – original title: Cô Haû Gaí – is a 2016 Vietnamese-South Korean romantic horror feature film written and directed by Derek Nguyen. The movie stars Kate Nhung, Jean-Michel Richaud and Kim Xuan.
Linh (Kate Nhung) is a docile and hardworking poor orphaned girl who travels to Sa Cat seeking a housemaid job. Sebastien Laurent (Jean-Michel Richaud) is a French captain and owner of the Sa Cat rubber plantation.
For years, the massive mansion is rumoured to have ghosts, particularly those of Camille Sebastien’s late wife and the mistreated plantation workers. Once Linh comes to Sa Cat, she begins to hear strange sounds, have frightening dreams, and witness bizarre occurrences.
After some time, Linh and Captain Laurent become close to each other and develop a romance. However, their love soon awakens the vengeful souls of Sa Cat plantation…
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Set in 1953 Vietnam – in the middle of the French-Indochina war – The Housemaid is a curious affair from debut feature director Derek Nguyen. It almost plays out like an Asian take on The Woman in Black. Like that recent Hammer film, this is a mix of lush visuals and very modern shock tactics, and additionally, it frustrates almost as much as it is satisfying.
Linh (Kate Nhung) arrives, in the middle of the night, at a rubber plantation in search of work and is taken on as a housemaid. The place is rumoured to be haunted by the spirits of those who died working on the plantation, and by the mistress of the house, who killed her child before taking her own life. As Linh settles into the strange and stilted routine of the house, she finds herself drawn to Captain Sebastien Laurent (Jean-Michel Richaud), the master of the house who is recovering from an assassination attempt. Soon, the pair have become lovers, but this interracial relationship disturbs both the living – the other servants and Laurents’s fiancée – and the dead.
The Housemaid is a languid affair. It looks lovely – both the period recreation and the atmospheric visuals create a potent atmosphere. But the performances are variable – Nhung is very good, but Richaud has all the personality of a dining table, and so it becomes difficult to believe in their relationship. And at 104 minutes, the film tends to crawl along – a faster pace would not have unbalanced the atmosphere, although it might have prevented viewers from growing disinterested, as the unconvincing romance takes centre stage.
The film has a twist to its tale – without giving anything away, it rather unbalances what has gone before, and requires a certain acceptance of a long of coincidences falling into place. Unfortunately, this ending is neither convincing or satisfactory.
Ultimately, The Housemaid is a pleasant enough viewing experience, though not especially memorable. The combination of romance, intrigue and the supernatural proves to be a tough one to juggle, and in the end, no element is especially gripping or original. As eye-candy, the film is fine – as horror, it doesn’t quite work, and as romantic drama it fails miserably. That said, if you come to this with limited expectations, you might find it a pleasant enough way of spending an evening.
David Flint, MOVIES & MANIA
” …think less Masterpiece Theater and more The Woman in Black with a splash of James Wan. There’s an excellent chance The Housemaid will surprise you with its smartly crafted story and exceptionally executed chills.” Ian Sedensky, Culture Crypt
“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.” Michael Allen, 28 Days Later Analysis
“It’s absolutely beautiful to look at and is very similar visually to Park Chan Wook’s The Handmaiden which came out earlier this year. No-one’s saying that the film isn’t visually stunning. Sadly, it’s the plot that fails to come up to the mark.” Sandra Harris, Cinehouse
“A beautifully shot piece with lavish sets and locations – The Handmaid stumbles far too many times, mostly because it throws everything but the kitchen sink into the swirling mix. Unfocused, it’s a prime example of not knowing when to pull back and when to give all you have to the best you have…” Michael Klug, Horrorfreak News
” …The Housemaid can at times feel excessively derivative, but the addition of its backdrop of colonial unrest makes it a unique experience in Asian horror. If the idea of a romance between a rich European white man and his Asian servant seems initially problematic, worry not, as there’s more than meets the eye to a film that doesn’t hold back its political stance.” Eric Hillis, The Movie Waffler
In the UK, Montage Pictures/Eureka Entertainment released The Housemaid as a Blu-ray + DVD combo on 19 February 2018.