Starring: Kim Jin-kyu, Lee Eun-shim, Ju Jeung-ryu
Director: Kim Ki-young
Running Time: 108 mins
The Housemaid is a South Korean film about a man whose family life is heavily unsettled by the arrival of a young housemaid, whose bizarre behaviour becomes a dangerous threat.
This is a really strange film, complete with a dark and twisted story that should be the perfect recipe for a deeply unsettling horror-thriller, and although its visuals and performances do work towards establishing that sense of unease throughout, its somewhat inconsistent and jagged story makes it a lot less affecting throughout.
Before we get into that, however, let’s look at where this film can really grab your attention, and that’s through its performances. Although I can’t say that the screenplay writes the most fascinating or terrifying characters, the actors do a great job throughout emphasising each individuals’ terror and confusion at the increasingly unpredictable and dangerous events taking over their family life.
Above all, it’s Lee Eun-shim that gives the best performance, taking on an incredibly strange and genuinely unsettling persona from beginning to end as the housemaid, and stamping her authority against her older co-stars in a manner that perfectly mirrors her character’s abrupt and intrusive introduction into their household. She’s far from a pleasant on-screen presence, and pretty much everything she does will make your stomach curl, but that’s evidence of a strong and convincing performance that grabs you from the start and convinces you fully of the incredibly strange character that she is.
As well as the acting, the film’s visuals play a large part in its uneasy atmosphere. Again, I would have liked to see director Kim Ki-young go further with the film’s darkest elements, so as to really drive home the unsettling feel to it all. However, The Housemaid is shot in such a way that it clearly evokes memories of other incredibly unsettling horror-thrillers of the time, including the likes of Diabolique, Eyes Without A Face and even Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
For me, the film’s dark and unsettling visuals are its most striking characteristic, and the element that sets it apart from being a simple thriller, thanks to that extra sense of genuinely dark danger throughout.
However, while The Housemaid does prove a generally unsettling watch thanks to its visuals and performances, I can’t say that its story achieves quite the same thing, unfortunately missing the mark when it comes to dragging you into a nightmarish and emotionally devastating piece that could have been so much more affecting.
As a more straightforward horror-style thriller, the film works fine, and does very well to make its premise as unsettling as possible, but I really felt that the plot was missing a good bit of emphasis on the characters’ emotional distress at the terrifying situation that they find themselves in.
There is undoubtedly focus on the emotional effect that everything has on the main characters, but I didn’t feel that same power at any point, meaning I couldn’t really be as drawn into all of the madness that happens throughout the film, missing out on what could have been a devastating spiral of nightmarish proportions, an central premise that really would have fit this film well.
Overall, however, while I wasn’t overly blown away or deeply unsettled by The Housemaid, it’s still a striking and generally uneasy watch, thanks to atmospheric visuals and strong performances that do well to bring good power and drama to a story that unfortunately misses out on taking you one level deeper into an abyss of extreme emotional thrills, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.1.