When it comes to East Asian genre cinema, rarely does Thailand come up in conversation. Films like Shutter – a film so good it instantly got a sub-par American remake – and Ghost Game are names fans can appreciate, but the country’s horror output is considered to pale in comparison with countries like South Korea and Taiwan. Director Lee Thongkman (The Last One) has taken it upon himself to plant a flag in the genre with his ghostly revenge tale, The Maid.
When Joy is hired as a housemaid for a wealthy family, she spends most of her days doing the regular things you would expect: cleaning, cooking, etc. A large part of her day-to-day duties include looking after the family’s one young daughter, Nid. Nid is a regular little girl, but the drawings that adorn her wall pique Joy’s interest and when she starts to ask questions; the answers aren’t what she was looking for.
Joy starts poking around and soon discovers a family history of secrets and lies that have left the house she works in haunted by the spirit of the previous maid. Worse still, more digging reveals that the ghost that is now torturing Joy and Nid is her missing sister, Ploy. As the web of deceptions is untangled, Joy finds herself in the middle of a family tragedy that only seems to have one conclusion.
As supernatural horrors go, The Maid’s first hour or so is up there with some of the best. With a string of story mis-directs that keep the audiences guessing, while the melancholy ghost of missing Ploy tries to get her attention and tell her story. Each appearance from the seemingly decomposed maid links another puzzle piece for Joy while dragging audiences off their seats in fear.
Jumps are telegraphed, but still amazingly effective. Even as the standard tropes of these ghostly affairs are rolled out for audiences, they still illicit a jump or a recoil away from the screen as feet patter around under desks or ghosts disappear from corners with the magic of fast editing.
These moments in The Maid will keep your focus as the story begins to get a little messy and tough to keep up with at times. It’s a convoluted tale that can be a struggle to make sense of in places. While this is mainly done on purpose to keep you guessing, there is a degree of poor logic and judgement in the script that makes you wonder how it played out like that – having near identical sisters called Ploy and Joy seems needlessly obtuse. You wouldn’t have the stars of your story be two identical brothers called Bob and Rob. Would you?
But any story shortcomings are soon forgiven as the film’s third act kicks in and the consequences of everyones actions are brought to the forefront for viewers to partake in and, surprisingly, cheer along with. The closing act of The Maid turns in a direction that is unexpected but not unsurprising and ends the spooky horror film on an aggressive and satisfying high.
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The Maid shows more than just a little in the way of inspiration from a few decades of South Korean cinema. In fact, it feels like an unashamed homage to the films of Park Chan-Wook, in the very best way. It may lack the legendary director’s fingerprints, but scares are great and set pieces are a delight. The slow-burning and slightly clunky script is forgiven with the film’s execution which, while not flawless, is more than enjoyable to watch and doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. The Maid is a statement of intent from a director willing to stir up the pot a little and is all the better for it.
The Maid is available to download or stream from 11th October.