The Maid (Kelvin Tong, 2005)
Now, I'll say right off that, yes, the critics of this movie have it right: there's nothing here we haven't seen before. But you know what? There are thirty-six plots. Total. (And that's the liberal estimate. I've seen the estimate for the total number of plots in the world whittled down to nine convincingly.) As Al Jourgensen said back in the early nineties, "it's all been done already." What you have to try and do, if you're a writer, or a musician, or a filmmaker, is to present it another way, with your own style. I've seen a lot of derivative Asian horror movies recently, and of the lot, The Maid stands out. Why? Because Kelvin Tong has a lot more style than those other guys.
Alessandra de Rossi plays Rosa Dimaano, a young Filipino woman hired as a housekeeper by a cosmopolitan, if old-school, couple in Singapore, the Teos (Huifang Hong and Shucheng Chen). The Teos have a mentally challenged son, Ah-Soon (Benny Soh), and Rosa and Ah-Soon quickly become friends. However, the house is haunted, and the Seventh Month celebration (roughly analogous to a month-long version of Dia de los Muertos) is coming. Singaporean society has a long, complex set of rules on how to get through Seventh Month without the dead coming to plague you, but Rosa doesn't know them, and gleefully stumbles through her existence breaking them right and left until the dead start noticing her.
This is good stuff. Tong spends most of his time building tension rather than going for the jumps and relies heavily on atmosphere to do his dirty work for him. It doesn't work as well as it would if the movie weren't quite as predictable as it is, but this is mitigated by a cast of intriguing characters. Benny Soh, especially, plays Ah-Soon with the perfect mix of childlike innocence and the menace of an adult who can't tell right from wrong. And de Rossi, the most experienced actor in the cast by far, brings a wonderful naivete to her part.
I liked it. See it on the big screen if you can. Surround sound and a dark theater will definitely get you into the spirit of things. *** ½