Link to IMDB Entry for flick: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5860084/
Foreign-language films can be a mixed bag. They can require the viewer to come into the plot with some foreknowledge of the culture and its history; lacking that background can make appreciating the film difficult. The reliance on subtitles also requires intense focus, so multi-screen viewing isn’t really possible.
Those can also be strengths, though. Forcing audiences to stay glued to the screen increases immersion into the story. Further, figuring out the cultural and historical context is fun and rewarding, and deepens our knowledge of the world.
Such is the case with the Vietnamese horror film The Housemaid (2016), which takes place during the First French Indochinese War in 1953 (that is to say, the First Vietnam War, before the Americans butted our ways into a French colonial struggle).
The Housemaid opens with a young woman, Linh, in police custody, explaining the details of a grisly murder. It then cuts to her arriving at the lush Sa-Cat rubber plantation looking for work. No locals will work there, as the French Laurent family was famously cruel to the Vietnamese workers who lived there, maiming and executing them for the slightest offenses. As such, the locals believe the plantation is haunted by those very same tortured souls, many of whom were buried in mass graves in the rubber tree forest on the outskirt of the plantation.
The young, beautiful Linh quickly catches the eye of Captain Sebastien Laurent, a French officer who is recovering from wounds caused by the Viet Cong. Their blossoming romance, however, coincides with murderous appearances of Captain Laurent’s deceased wife, the infamously cruel Madame Camille, who begins dispatching the servants one-by-one. The staff—already fearing for their lives—also disapprove of Linh, a simple country peasant girl, winning the heart of the powerful French captain.
A major theme of the film is loyalty and treachery, as it is revealed that many of Sa-Cat’s most loyal servants are traitors to their fellow Vietnamese workers. One particularly suspenseful scene is when Mr. Chau, the plantation’s foreman, threatens to chop off a worker’s hand because she spills a small amount of liquid rubber on the ground. The cruelty is casual and partaken in with gusto.
Naturally, that theme brings up another: revenge. Here is where the big twist of the film comes in, building to an intense climax.
I very much enjoyed the ride this film took me on. Because I often watch movies while working on other items on the computer, I had to really give the flick my focus, and it took me awhile to get through it due to frequent stops. That’s not a knock on the film, though—it’s very well done, and the setting (war-torn Vietnam in the 1950s) is fascinating and exotic.
If you don’t mind reading a movie, The Housemaid is worth your time.