STUDIO: Tartan Video
MSRP: $22.95
• Making-of featurette
• Trailers

The Pitch

"It’s a fish out of water in haunted Singapore!"

The Humans

Alessandra de Rossi, Huifang Hong, Benny Soh

The Nutshell

Young Rosa (de Rossi) leaves her home in the Philippines to work as a maid in the house of a middle-aged Singaporean couple. She arrives during the seventh month of the Chinese calendar, a time in which legends say that the dead roam the Earth looking for vengeance. There are traditions in place to keep the spirits from interfering with the living, but poor Rosa doesn’t know what they are. Unwittingly, she invites the fury of the ghosts onto her head by casually breaking rule after rule, until dealing with the dead becomes the whole of her life.

The Walt Disney school of civil engineering.

The Lowdown

Damn them foreigners, and their willful disrespect of our traditions! There’s a subset of horror that plays off of one group’s disdain — intentional or not — for the ways of another group. Religion vs. religion, culture vs. culture, generation vs. generation, the usual mode of horror is to punish those ignorant in the legends of the others. Our American shores hosted a similar plot in the remake of The Grudge. Poor, stupid white folks in Japan. When will you ever learn?

You’d be forgiven for not being instantly grabbed by the outline for The Maid, since it brings nothing more to the table in its majority than the same faint sympathy and subtle damning of the protagonist, whose scant education sadly failed to cover the Chinese undead. You’d also be forgiven for writing the whole film off as an exercise in flattery-via-imitation after sitting through sixty minutes of it, as well. It’s billed as Singapore‘s first horror, but it doesn’t carry much in the way of distinctiveness. It’s not as if you could look at it and say, confidently, "Oh, that’s Singaporean," as you might be able to with Japanese and/or Korean cinema.

Through that first hour, what you’ll find is a largely uncreative set of jump scares and forced unease. Young Rosa finds herself having strange dreams and weird encounters with otherworldly beings, and can’t figure out how, why, or what to do about it. She’s lost, cut off from her family, her sickly little brother, and her familiar life. Such a situation lends itself well to a claustrophobic tone, but The Maid opts instead for flashy cuts and a scope that feels too wide to host any true horror. There’s just so much room to run. Also, it dispenses with any tension it builds up quickly, like those nervous contestants on The Weakest Link who yell, "Bank!" every chance they have.

"Hey, Paul. You know what we’re doing here?"
"No fucking idea. Just get the check and go, man."

I hesitate to say it’s worth sticking around for the last half-hour, because the conclusion doesn’t so much redeem the preceding as it does rise above it. Though they left mounds of material in the "respect your elders and betters" line of horror, the third act takes a swift turn into an altogether different subgenre: the "creepy family" horror. I mean creepy family along the line of the clan in Texas Chain Saw Massacre. A little group whose personal rules and regulations are well-beyond even those odd ones that fill their society. Rosa takes a dive into the weirdest-of-the-weird and, apart from being over-explained, it works rather well. Especially because it drops most of the smash cut shocks in favor of a fucking strange sense of revulsion.

If writer/director Kelvin Tong had gotten into those things which makes his story distinct a little earlier on in the running time (or even hinted at them,) The Maid would have been a much more successful film, and worthy of a good pimping. As it stands, it’s kind of like the student at the back of the class who doesn’t raise his hand or draw any attention to himself, and ends up coasting by on a C, though his teachers pull out their hair and insist, "Your son has so much potential!"

Kid probably wears glasses, too. Freak.

"Look, you idiot. Box without hinges, key, or lid. Do you get it, yet?"

The Package

The sound design is excellent, especially when given room to stretch on Tartan’s gloriously standard DTS track. Positional sound is used to great effect, and a full range of throbs and whistles are deployed to assist in the sense of unease.

The video transfer is, unfortunately, well below average. There is pixilation galore, at times making the thing look like a videogame pre-anti-aliasing technology. Tartan doesn’t usually end up with a product this bad, so my guess is that the source footage was poor. You’ll lose sight of it usually, but it does remind you of its existence at a few inopportune times.

Bonus-wise, you’ll have a making-of clip, and you’ll be thankful for it.

5.6 out of 10