The Maid Review
Written by: jmh314
Every year, for thirty days during the lunar seventh month, the Chinese believe that the gates of hell are thrown open. Vengeful spirits or hungry ghosts wander among the living, seeking revenge and justice before the gates of hell are closed again for another year. So what happens when you break traditions and offend a ghost? This is the premise behind Singapore's home grown horror movie, The Maid. The Maid is an Asian ghost horror that sticks with it's story and never tries to veer off course. It is very streamlined but still manages to hold one's attention all while providing some good jump-scares. Its very well executed and is a good addition to the Asian horror genre from a country not known for their horror.
The Maid revolves around just what the title says: a maid. The maid is a young 18 year old girl name Rosa from the Philippines who comes to Singapore to make money. She arrives to her host family, the Teo's, and immediately learns that she is in a whole new culture. Rosa soon learns that she has arrived during the lunar seventh month and that it is a month filled with tradition. She doesn't understand the traditions but does all she can to try and learn from Mr and Mrs Teo. She watches as they pray and do things like burn money as offerings to the spirits asking them to leave them all alone.
One morning while cleaning, Rosa made her way outside and began to sweep up the ashes of the burnt offerings from the night before. Mrs Teo catches her and gets angry saying thats a sacrifice for the elder spirits and she shouldn't be touching it. Unfortunately for Rosa, Mrs Teo isn't the only person she angered. Legend says if you break tradition or anger the spirits that you will see ghosts until the gates of hell close at the end of the 7th month. By trying to clean up the Teo's burnt offerings, Rosa offended the spirits and soon she begins to see ghosts everywhere she goes.
With Rosa now seeing strange ghosts, she begins to realize there is a bit of a mystery to the Teo's home. Rosa soon begins hearing pounding in a locked storage closet and things around the house begin to mysteriously open. Rosa gets more scared in the Teo's home as she discovers the belongings of someone named Esther. After the Teo's mentally challenged son called her Esther by mistake, Rosa begins to realize that Esther could be the key to helping stop seeing ghosts. But as her paranoia increases and more & more ghosts haunt Rosa, she soon begins to realize that things are not as they seem. Will she be able to figure out what this mysterious Esther has to do with her visions? Or will she crack under her own fear and paranoia before the end of the 7th month when the gates of hell will close and ghosts disappear? One thing is for sure, Rosa is learning a lesson on culture she wont soon forget.
The thing that drives The Maid is a streamlined story that never strays from what it is trying to be. It does enough to continually build tension and keep the viewer guessing and doesn't have to put in the super confusing twists that often accompany Asian horror films. It stays on course from beginning to end and provides creepy scares and a somewhat predictable yet very satisfying ending.
Writer/Director Kelvin Tong did a great job keeping this film on track. He could have easily let this film twist and fall apart, but instead got from beginning to end with great ease. He did a good job explaining the Chinese customs as I think he knew the film would have an audience outside of Singapore who may not understand them all. The use of both English and Mandarin languages also shows that Tong planned on having a diverse audience for this film. English was the primary language used which I think showed Tong's desire for this to be popular in English speaking countries.
The cinematography is wonderful as there are some very colorful shots with all the ancient Chinese customs. Asian horror films don't always use this much color and it gave it a more realistic feel and yet never took away from the creepiness of the story. Two shots in this film stood out particularly well in my mind. One involved the reflection of a ghost on a wardrobe door that was really well done. The other was a shot that had Rosa standing in a blowing pile of burnt paper ashes. The ashes blew upward around her face and it was a wonderful looking shot.
The acting was decent for this type of Asian horror. Alessandra de Rossi did a great job of playing Rosa. She made Rosa into a character who was trying to solve a mystery but was a bit of a mystery herself. Add in her fear of the unknown in a land she had yet to understand and Alessandra did a good job in creating a character the viewer could feel bad for. Benny Soh also played a great role as Ah Soon, the Teo's mentally challenged son. He was creepy yet innocent at the same time, and his character added a bit of intrigue to the story. Huifang Hong who played Mrs Teo did annoy me at times since most of the film was in English and her accent was so thick. I had a hard time understanding her at times and it made me have to overly concentrate on her dialog to make sure I didn't miss something important.
Special effects were on par with most ghost horrors. The obligatory ghost with the long black hair was here, but there were several other ghosts as well. The nice thing was they often looked like a real character but then you would get flashes of an evil ghost face on them and realize they weren't all they appeared to be. There was one scene with a boy who had cuts emerge by his kidneys and he turned around and was holding them that was fantastic. The sound effects were very good as it uses a lot of creaking of hinges and squeaking of floorboards. The music was good but sometime annoying. They music used heavy shrills of a violin to help create a lot of their scares. While it was effective, it was sometimes a bit much.
The Maid was really a refreshing change of pace in my Asian horror obsession because of how streamlined the movie stayed. It never really jumped off course, told a good story, and had a leading character you felt bad for. The use of many different looking ghosts was a welcomed change, even though there was still the typical dark haired ghost at times. There were some real legit points where I jumped, in large part to a loud shrill violin or flash of a ghost unexpectedly. While the film was by no means 100% original, it was a good change of pace from many Asian horrors that try to be more than they really should be. Singapore has done a good job in providing a horror film to rival many other Asian countries, and I look forward to seeing more takes on the horror genre from their country.