• The Housemaid



    Released by: Eureka Entertainment/Montage
    Release date: February 19, 2018
    Directed by: Derek Nguyen
    Cast: Nhung Kate, Jean-Michel Richaud, Kim Xuan, Rosie Fellner, Phi Phung, Kien An, Syitlana Kovalenko, Linh Son Nguyen
    Year: 2016
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    In a dilapidated mansion on the grounds of a rubber plantation (circa 1953), a young Vietnamese housemaid finds the plantation’s French owner, Captain Sebastien Laurent, murdered, possibly by the spirit of his late wife who had murdered their baby and then drowned herself during a bout of post-partum depression. The housemaid, an orphan named Linh who had only recently taken a job at the estate, is then taken to the police station to answer questions about what happened.

    Linh reveals that she had met the handsome Laurent, a captain in the First Indochinese War, when he had been found in his crashed vehicle on the estate grounds. Apparently, returning home from the war for a few days retreat, he had been shot while pulling onto the estate grounds. Tasked with nursing him back to health, Linh found the job a losing battle. Laurent’s family had forbidden anything but Western medicine be used on the captain, but the cook insisted that she had magic far stronger than any known medicine. Giving in, Linh allowed the cook to perform her dark rites. Unfortunately, those rites also appeared to have awakened the spirit of the captain’s angry wife, who proceeded to kill various employees of the estate while searching for the buried remains of someone beloved.

    Despite the claims of some reviewers, The Housemaid is not a remake of the classic 1960 South Korean horror film of the same name. Instead, it’s drawn from an entirely original idea from the mind of filmmaker Derek Nguyen, who also wrote and directed. Of Vietnamese birth, Nguyen’s parents fled to the United States during the Fall of Saigon, when Derek was only two years old. Becoming an American citizen, Nguyen studied acting and filming at the University of California, Santa Barbara and New York University. Nguyen’s first short film as writer and director was produced in 2011 and was narrated by none other than George Takei.

    The Housemaid (original title: Cô Hầu Gái) was the director’s first feature-length film, and what a debut it is. Set during the First Indochinese War, Nguyen’s script deals intelligently with French colonialism in Vietnam while also crafting a remarkably taut and terrifying thriller. In some ways reminiscent of Hammer (particularly the company’s more recent The Woman in Black, 2012), it’s a Gothic thriller with lofty ambitions, none of which would work if it weren’t for the romantic undercurrent that fuses the picture, bringing its characters and their situation to life. Linh is attracted to the captain because he represents a life she has never had. An orphan raised in poverty, she desperately clings to a life beyond her means, one that represents a world apart from her narrow and limited own. The captain, on the other hand, finds in Linh a helpmate who lacks the pretensions and snobbery of his own world; he’s drawn to her precisely because of her humble origins (and striking beauty). As their joint world is beset by supernatural occurrences and grisly deaths, their love seems triumphant… until Laurent’s own ghastly murder at the hands of his spectral bride, at once jealous of his new love and angry that he had left her and her child to fight in the war.

    Yet, things may not be as they seem, and Nguyen’s script plants enough clues throughout that the final denouement, while coming as a shock, remains believable. The director’s past as an Edgar Award-winning playwright has given him an ability to navigate the tricky waters of genre filmmaking, where fake scares and instant shocks often destroy carefully built atmosphere. As both a writer and a director, Nguyen is perfect, weaving an enticing spell and crafting flawlessly framed images to the best possible effect. The images of dark, ghostly women haunting the living is rife in Asian cinema, yet Nguyen somehow makes them seem unique and inventive.

    Release in September 2016 in Vietnam, the film quickly became the third highest-grossing horror movie in the nation’s history. Elsewhere, it has met with critical acclaim and received several high-profile awards. A Vietnamese/South Korean co-production, it has found release in at least 18 different territories.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Through their Montage Pictures imprint, Eureka Entertainment brings The Housemaid to Blu-ray courtesy of an MPEG-4 AVC encode in 1080p high definition. Presented in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio, the film is placed on a single BD50 with a high bitrate for maximum clarity. The image is crisp and gorgeous, featuring a bevy of details that add to the atmospheric aura. The decay of Laurent’s aging mansion—its external paint peeling while its internal walls rots from moisture, heat, and lack of care—is revealed in all its glory (or, rather, lack thereof); and detail is further revealed in endless rows of rubber trees with their green leaves and brown trunks, the somber Asian dress of lower-class workers, and myriad medium and close shots of facial reactions. Colors intentionally skew toward earthy and brown, with chiaroscuro lighting bathing interiors in a warm amber glow and exteriors in cold blues and grays. Blacks are really black, purposefully losing detail in the shadows to create a starker contrast between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Despite the darkness that besets much of the picture, there’s nary an ounce of noise. Mild artificial grain has been added to give the movie a more film-like appearance, but there are no complaints about any aspect of the image. It’s pretty much perfect.

    Two soundtracks are provided, both in the native language, one in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and one in LPCM 2.0. There are no issues with either track. The film’s soundtrack is fairly lowkey, with moderate use of music for emphasis, but that music never interferes with the dialogue. The Asian characters speak Vietnamese, while the French characters speak English. Meanwhile, Eureka has provided two sets of optional English subtitles, one for the full feature, and one for only those moments when characters are speaking in Vietnamese.

    Extras are sparse, unfortunately. The theatrical trailer, which runs 1:39, is included, and the disc opens with a video promo for Montage Pictures’ releases.

    This release is locked to Region B. Included with the release is a companion DVD containing the same features; it was not provided to Rock! Shock! Pop! for review.

    The Final Word:

    The Housemaid is an excellent horror film; already a classic of its subgenre and with an English-language remake in the works, its reputation is bound to grow. Eureka’s Montage imprint has done a great job with the audio-visual aspects of this release; the image is sterling and the sound is strong. The only drawback is the sparsity of extras, and that can be forgiven considering just how good the film itself is.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out in 2019.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!