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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look87.5%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 6.25%
Total Crap: 6.25%

2 reviews, 4 user ratings

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Maid, The (2006)
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by Jay Seaver

"Even when ghosts are expected, they're still scary."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: Every once in a while, a successful movie potentially ruins things for everybody else. I won't say which other movie has a plot twist that is so famous that it makes a similar twist in "The Maid" seem a little uninspired, but you've probably guessed it, or will as soon as ghosts are mentioned. It'd be unfair to judge "The Maid" by that similarity, since it's got more going on after that revelation and the different context makes for an interesting story.

That context is Singapore, where Rosa Dimaano (Alessandra de Rossi) has arrived to begin working as a maid for the Teo family, who stage Chinese operas and care for their developmentally disabled son, Ah Soon (Benny Soh). She has arrived at the beginning of China's seventh lunar month, during which time many Chinese burn paper offerings to the spirits of their ancestors, leave food out for wandering spirits, or leave the front row of chairs open for ghosts at performances. This is all pretty weird for Rosa, an eighteen-year-old Filipino who had seldom left her village before coming to Singapore; she's Christian, herself, and doesn't know these customs. When she sweeps away some ashes in the sidewalk, Mrs. Teo (Huifang Hong) scolds her, saying it's bad luck. It certainly seems to be - after doing so, Rosa can see ghosts, including one that is uncomfortably close at hand. She's already a little on edge, since her brother needs money for a kidney transplant and the maid across the street freaks out at the sight of her. But it's only thirty days, after which the gates of hell close and she'll be bothered by ghosts no more, right? She can handle that.

The relationship with ghosts in Chinese culture (Chinese being Singapore's largest ethnic group) is different than it is in the west, which actually simplifies the telling of ghost stories a little. There are well-known rules for how one interacts with spirits, and Rosa is actually considered a bit odd for not initially believing in ghosts. This doesn't make the ghosts Rosa encounters any less scary - some are malevolent, others simply resentful, and the one that haunts her most is restless and angry. Western audiences learn about these beliefs along with Rosa, but aside from a brief bit of text at the very beginning, it never stops the movie, so I imagine that a Chinese audience can enjoy it without losing patience. I imagine that it's a different experience, though - rather than plunging into the unknown along with her, maybe there's a different sort of dread that comes from knowing she's doing the wrong thing, or seeing how she's being set up.

It's not hard to like Rosa. Ms. de Rossi is girl-next-door pretty, and does a nice job of making Rosa kind of astounded by the big city without making her a total rube. Rather than have her spend a lot of time gawking, writer/director Kelvin Tong gives her a scene where she drops a soft-boiled egg on the floor, and is quietly surprised when even she, a servant, doesn't have to try and brush the dirt off and eat it but will get another. She doesn't make it look like riches beyond imagining, but does make it clear that the economic situation here is different from her home. She's polite and dutiful without being servile, and is likably curious. And importantly for this kind of movie, she also has a powerful set of lungs in her small body for when she's called upon to scream.

Which will be often. The ghosts creep her the heck out, even when they're just standing there ignoring her as much as everybody else ignores them. Over the course of the movie, she'll see a bunch of scary reflections in mirrors, have bad nightmares, be chased, and specifically targeted for murder. Tong imbues all of these things with genuine tension, and Rosa's reaction always makes sense, whether it's to try and run back to the agency that placed her or confront those she suspects. Only once or twice does the story ever seem off, specifically when a character is taken out of the equation because the film needs Rosa to not have any more help from that point on. There have been rules so far, and that character's exit doesn't quite seem to fit them.

Most of what Tong does is very well-considered, though - a red-flag-waving opening is all but forgotten when Rosa's arrival is greeted warmly, and he does a fine job of imbuing Singapore with a sense of place. The contrast between the very modern city and the more traditional, superstitious areas that lie on the outskirts comes across very well, and the imagery of burnt and burning offerings is also striking. He elicits a believably childlike performance from Benny Soh, making him likable while at the same time recognizing that a retarded son is a real problem; there's a well-delivered like from Huifang Hong about how most parents see their children grow up that raises the unspoken but palpable question of what's to be done in ten years, or twenty? She and Mr. Teo (Shucheng Chen) aren't getting any younger. For some, that might be a scarier thought than all the ghosts.

Although they are plenty scary. "The Maid" never has a problem getting the audience to jump, and is so well-constructed that the scares never feel like cheats. Even if you see the twist coming, it's part of a story that fits together in fine fashion.

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originally posted: 07/10/06 00:45:50
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Fantasia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/11/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess "Quiet. LOUD! Quiet. LOUD! Quiet. LOUD!" It gets dull after a while... 2 stars
8/09/09 karamashi A bunch of bullshit! A irrelavent twist and just an awful film. 1 stars
10/22/08 Shaun Wallner Scary Film! 4 stars
9/13/06 Edward Connell An experiment in supernatural existance awaits the viewer. 4 stars
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  DVD: 12-Sep-2006



Directed by
  Kelvin Tong

Written by
  Kelvin Tong

  Alessandra De Rossi
  Huifang Hong
  Benny Soh
  Zhenwei Guan

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