Mixing a lathered-up love triangle with a ghostly murder-mystery, Derek Nguyen’s “The Housemaid” wraps a painful bankruptcy in Vietnamese historical past in Gothic-melodrama trappings. The result's a handsome however overstuffed style pileup that confuses as steadily because it compels.
Set in 1953 when Vietnam used to be beneath French colonial rule, the tale — impressed by means of the reminiscences of Mr. Nguyen’s grandmother, a former housemaid — takes position on a sprawling rubber plantation belonging to Sebastien (Jean-Michel Richaud), a good-looking French officer. When an orphan named Linh (Nhung Kate) joins his small space personnel, she enters a terrifying global the place creaks and whispers and vibrating strings practice her from room to room. Everyone, it kind of feels, harbors shameful secrets and techniques, no longer least the home itself, the place Sebastien’s spouse and child died and a wraithlike apparition flits and hovers.
Drawing similarly from Hitchcock and the clammy scares of Japanese horror films like “Ju-on: The Grudge” (2002), Mr. Nguyen whips up a spectral stew of previous atrocities and present-day hanky-panky. Lush, verdant exteriors — vibrantly photographed by means of Sam Chase — outline a plantation the place, in keeping with Sebastien’s garrulous cook dinner, masses of Vietnamese employees have been brutalized. Bleeding foliage and a mass grave again her up, however the film’s invocation of slavery and Holocaust-like imagery feels overshadowed and muted by means of its soapy middle.
Shot in Vietnam (the place it used to be launched in 2016), “The Housemaid” is an bold, atmospheric first function that — however a slightly nifty twist on the finish — would have benefited from a extra rigorous editor. It’s a surroundings so fertile with real-life horrors that any narrative embellishment can simplest really feel like an excessive amount of of a nasty factor.