Maid, The (US - DVD R1)
Gabe was distinctly told not to touch the Ghosts' offerings, and did it anyway...
Rosa Dimaano (Alessandra de Rossi), a young Filipino woman moves to Singapore to serve as a maid for Mr. and Mrs. Teo, who run a Chinese Teochew dialect opera troupe. She arrives on the Chinese Seventh Month when for 30 days and 30 nights the gates of Hell are opened, and the ghosts of the damned are allowed to walk amongst the living. Rosa is not Chinese however, and her Christian beliefs don't meld with these superstitions, thus she is not afraid. Then she unwittingly breaks the rules, and is haunted by violent visions of the undead.
Anyone interested in seeing Singapore's first ever horror film release should probably stay far away from any critical blurbs, especially the one that adorns the DVD's cover. These reviews all seem to compare The Maid to two other films, and in effect give away the entire plot. My review will probably end up doing the exact same thing.
"...Part The Sixth Sense, part Ju-On.", says horror news site ArrowInTheHead.com, and that pretty much says it all. Toss in a lick of genuine Chinese folklore, and you got yourself a movie. Nobody here was really expecting a revelation in originality here, right? Didn't think so.
The second thing to understand before watching The Maid is that the maid herself is not the antagonist, but the protagonist. The film is unfortunately titled, and I don't know about anyone else, but I made some pretty silly assumptions based on that unfortunate title. This is not an exploitation flick about a murderous maid. Director Kelvin Tong even does his best to supply the film with an air of respectability, and for the most part he succeeds. The film looks pretty good, and the actors are all very professional.
The Maid has a truly bizarre pacing and flow. The first half lays just as much importance visually on mundane house cleaning as horrifying visits from the undead. Perhaps Tong was just doing his best to keep us off guard, which proves successful in doses. Occasionally, a casual scare did catch this viewer off guard. The weird pace serve a second purpose, in that no specific event is given too much screen time, in an effort to hide the films inevitable final act twist.
Unfortunately, just after the half-way mark, Tong messes it all up by tossing every possible clichéd scare tactic onto the screen in the hopes that some of them will stick. Turning a dark corner you turned a dozen times only to find a ghost, shifting a mirror at the correct angle to find a ghost, bending down to inspect something on the floor only to find a ghost when you stand up, creepy children running around, it's all here and we've all seen it all before. By the time the inevitable final act twist arrived I was exhausted, but unfortunately not out of fear. The film lacks control.
The fact that The Maid occasionally looked and acted differently from other Asian Ghost Stories got my hopes up. I didn't realize it was just trying to be an American horror movie instead. The inevitable final act twist's reveal is so much like a film students rendition of the same scene from The Sixth Sense (and no, I'm not giving anything too big away, they aren't the exact same twist) it's sad to think that there was potential to be had here.
Did you hear that loud, crashing thud? That was the sound of Tartan USA dropping the ball big time. An artefact here and there, a bit of graininess or edge enhancement, these are all forgivable offenses, especially when they aren't a constant. What is an inexcusable hindrance on even a novice viewer's viewing enjoyment is the stretching of an image. For some reason Tartan has tried to stretch what appears to be a 1.85:1 ratio into about a 2.35:1. It's jarring and ugly, and I noticed it every second of the film.
The rest of the transfer is more than serviceable, producing some nice colours without bleeding. There is some grain and low-level noise present, but barely enough to warrant noticing. The contrast could probably do with a bit of tweaking, as the image often appears a bit flat. This is a dark movie, as seen in my screen caps.
As per usual from Tartan, we're give both a DTS and a Dolby Digital track, and as per usual, they're nearly impossible to differentiate. The soundtrack is mostly mellow, at least for the mellower first half, but scares are very loudly accentuated by the often silly sounding musical score. These scare hits are so loud that it may be worth warning viewers to not crank the sound too loud during the film's down times. This gets out of hand quickly as the film wraps up.
Our main character, Rosa, does not speak Mandarin, and communicates with others with English. This is sort of admirable, as it's most likely how most Filipino immigrants communicate with the people they meet in China, and it doesn't placate to its audience (unless of course the 'real' audience was suppose to be American producers...). The problem is that, with the exception of Rosa, most of these actors do not speak very intelligible English, and the DVD's English subtitles don't appear anything unless Mandarin is being spoken. There is a great deal of dialogue here (roughly a thrid or more) that will be missed unless the viewer has a particular penchant for deciphering broken English.
I honestly thank Tartan for not pile too many extras onto this DVD, because frankly I was done with it the second the film stopped. The Making-Of featurette is, as seems to be the norm for shorter docs, actually a really long ad for the film. There is little actual information here, but plenty of happy folks talkin' shop. The rest of the disc consists of Trailers for this, and other Tartan Asia Extreme releases.
The Maid isn't a great start into the horror field for Singapore. It isn't the worst film of its kind by a long shot, but it doesn't have the confidence to truly have an interesting voice of its own. Tartan, who was on a roll for a while there, has really messed up on the transfer which is obviously stretched into the wrong aspect ratio. They've also not supplied consistent English subtitles to help navigate the film's constant broken English. I'm disappointed, but still hold out hope for director Kelvin Tong, thanks to the film's meandering pace and narrative. Maybe next time he'll make a Chinese horror movie instead of an American one.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 12th September 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: DTS 5.1 Mandarin, Dolby Digital 5.1 Mandarin
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: The Making of The Maid, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Kelvin Tong
Cast: Alessandra de Rossi, Huifang Hong, Benny Soh, Zhenwei Guan, Shucheng Chen
Genre: Horror and Thriller
Length: 89 minutes
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