I have decided to take a little trip around the various Asian territories that don’t get quite the same love for my next set of reviews, moving away from the Cinematic heartlands of Japan, Hong Kong/China and South Korea, and having a look at some Thai, Filipino and in this case, Singaporean films. Kelvin Tong is a Director that has appeared a couple of times before here, giving us the very good “Kidnapper” and “Rule Number One” so I thought I would have a little look at the film that really bought him to wider attention, Singapore’s first home-grown Horror movie, “The Maid”
Rosa (Alessandra de Rossi) is a young girl from the Philipines who travels to Singapore to become the live in Maid to a middle aged Chinese couple. It is her first time away from her home town, and she is exposed to a new, strange world, where the family are very much believers in old Chinese Customs. They are part of a local Chinese Opera Group, and have a son who is mentally disabled. The seem nice enough though, and welcome Rosa in to their family with wide open arms. Rosa’s arrival coincides with the Chinese Ghost Month, where the story goes that Hell opens its doors for 30 days, and Ghosts walk the earth – so lots of superstitions are observed, all of which is very new to Rosa. However, as time goes on, Rosa begins to realise that not everything is quite on the level, she does not seem to do an awful lot of Maid duties, and the family start to act in a very controlling manner. On top of this, she begins to experience strange dreams of Ghosts, which start to appear in her waking world as well. Then she finds out that she is not the couple’s first Maid, and in her attempts to discover what happened to her predecessor, she finds out that the couple may well have somewhat different plans for her than cooking and cleaning.
The first thing I was struck by in the film, is just how good a job it did on showing differing Asian cultures. Rosa is Filipino, so her Asian heritage is very much mixed with American and Spanish influences, whilst the Singaporeans are from an English/Malay/Chinese brew. It seems obvious, but it is something I rarely see in Asian cinema (outside of Japanese bashing), this sense of there being quite disparate and different cultural influences in the Oriental world. Rosa therefore acts as a good way for us outsiders to explore local customs, without the film becoming too expository.
The film does have a good range of scares, although to be honest they are of the cheap “quick shot of a ghost with loud music” nature on the whole, but it works much better when displaying a palpable atmosphere of dread and discomfort, things just don’t feel ‘right’, and this keeps the viewer interested in the underlying mystery. It helps that de Rossi is an engaging and empathetic actress, taking us on her somewhat confusing journey, and it actually improves on a second viewing as some of the oddness makes much more sense.
So it is well put together, and well acted, but to be honest, it is not entirely original. At the risk of spoiling things, there is a heavy dose of standard Asian Horror tropes (Ghost Girls, Suicides, mentally ill man-children) along with the fact this is a post-“Sixth Sense” Ghost story. So in and of itself, it is a very good exponent of this kind of movie, but doesn’t have that extra hook which raises it up that extra notch. Experienced viewers will grasp what is going on here pretty quickly.
It does have an odd subplot about a partially deaf Mailman, that comes to nothing really, I will accept it being a red herring, but it feels like something more could have been done here.
It is a very accessible film to Western Audiences though, not just because of the way Rosa is written, but because language-wise it uses (other than a smattering of Tagalog and some Chinese) Singlish, which is a kind of pigeon English with smatterings of local words. So whilst as an English speaker you understand most of what is being said, the subtitles are actually more full of context – quite the opposite of subtitles I am used to!
One thing which does make it a little different is the ending – I am used to no one coming out alive, or that the curse is still continuing on. Without wanting to spoil too much, we get an ending with closure, and a lovely little end scene that shows the final fates of everyone involved.
In conclusion, giving it credit for being produced some 6 years ago, it is a fine and worthy addition to the Asian Horror collection – it does lack in originality, but has enough going for it to make it Recommended, more so knowing about the improved work the Director would come to produce.