The Maid (2005)

Rating: C+

Dir: Kelvin Tong
Star: Alessandra de Rossi, Chen Shu Cheng, Hong Hui Fang, Benny Soh

The seventh month of the Chinese year is not a good time. Peeved spirits walk the earth seeking revenge, and must be placated by offerings from the living. Plus, there are certain rules to follow, such as not looking back at night if someone calls your name, and not going swimming [Steve Irwin should have taken heed…] Into this month comes Rosa (de Rossi), a Phillipino maid now working in Singapore; her employers, along with their retarded son, seem kind, but Rosa starts to have visions of the dead. Visions, that gain in strength and frequency, until she’s no longer sure what’s real and what’s not. Has she broken the rules somehow? If so, what does she need to do to make amends? Or if not, why is she apparently the target for these messages from beyond the grave?

Tong certainly is familiar with the conventions of the horror genre; the main problem is, he rolls them out, with insignificant variation, for about an hour. Yes, Rosa sees dead people. We got it the first time. I said, “We got it the first time,” Mr Tong. Thank you. Chris raised the most relevant question Rosa should be asking within ten minutes, and she doggedly sticks at her job well after the point where I’d have handed in my resignation. Such persistence is laudable. When the plot finally unfolds, it heads in the direction we anticipated, yet adds some twists, and interest rises accordingly. There’s also some very nice sound design, with the best use of silence I’ve seen recently in a film, which is quite unnerving. On the other hand, the scenes in English (it’s part in Teochew, a Chinese dialect) weaken the film, since it seems a native language for none of the actors, bar de Rossi. Still, we did learn why you should never sit in the front row at the Peking Opera…