Vietnam might not be the first country you might think of with regards to horror heritage, or indeed even a booming international film industry, but that hasn’t stopped the film connoisseurs over at Eureka Home Entertainment braving the jungle and the risk of flashbacks to bring us Derek Nguyen’s gothic tinged ghost story ‘The House Maid’ (Cô Haû Gaí – Vietnamese title) for our viewing pleasure.
Synopsis: “When an orphaned Vietnamese girl is hired to be a housemaid at a haunted rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina, she unexpectedly falls in love with the French landowner and awakens the vengeful ghost of his dead wife... who is out for blood.”
You can be forgiven in thinking that, given Vietnam’s position in the far East that ‘The House Maid’ would be heavily influenced by other Asian films, but it is not. As soon as the story gets going you will be able to start a checklist of the film’s ‘Hollywood’ influences. Drawing heavily in both story and style from Western horror films it really doesn’t take you long to settle into the swing of things and enjoy a story whose context is linked to Indochina’s past, but without having to decipher a whole host of cultural references.
The first thing which will strike you, and indeed stay with you, is how beautiful this film looks. At its best it is so gorgeously graded it looks like a moving painting. Atmospheric and immersive, the plantation looks as ominous and foreboding as its reported past, with the old relic house providing the perfect location for a genuinely spooky story.
The plot moves along at a brisk pace, managing to balance its exposition with tension building well. The story isn’t desperately complex, but as with most good chillers, all is not quite as it seems, and the film does well to keep its cards close to its chest right up until the end of the film. The acting is great, although its hard to pick out a stand out character or cast member, as all of them seem to one version of miserable or another. This helps to set a tone, but it would have been nice just for a little comic relief!
The scares come in patches, and it must be said, that the film is not a full-blown assault of terror. When the jolts come, however, they are effective. Mixing jump scares with more modern horror set pieces the ghostly sequences look the part and most definitely show a dedication to entertaining the audience, despite the film also having its fingers in several genres ‘pies’.
The only, very minor niggle I feel obliged (albeit somewhat pedantic) to point out, is that, due to the films ‘borrowing’ from other movies, a number of scenes and story elements take you out of this film’s ‘world’. Blatant references to films such as ‘The Others’, ‘Woman in Black’ and even a rather dodgy attempt at one of the killer car scenes in ‘Christine’ don’t always sit as well in the mix as intended.
Overall, and despite my minor criticism, this is a must watch any day of the week. It’s a great ‘grown up’ ghost story with very few compromises. Whilst there are a few modern influences, all in all ‘The Housemaid’ is a competent traditional horror. Recommended.