Vietnamese horror romance ‘The Housemaid’ successfully mixes classy and trashy to take on history

( Los Angeles Times) The new Vietnamese film “The Housemaid” has nothing to do with the classic 1960 Korean melodrama (or its 2010 remake) of the same name but is similarly concerned with sex and secrets … and is just as enjoyably overheated. Writer-director Derek Nguyen’s supernatural thriller settles confidently in a place between classy and trashy.

Nhung Kate stars as Linh, a war orphan who takes a job working for plantation owner Capt. Sebastien Laurent (Jean-Michel Richaud), right at the point in the early 1950s as Vietnamese nationalists mobilize against the French occupiers. The political situation provides a strong undercurrent to a story about how it feels to be unwelcome.

Linh’s an inadvertent usurper. She’s a servant who soon slips into her boss’ bed, causing trouble in the household by angering the uptight estate manager Mrs. Han (Kim Xuan) — and then by riling up the terrifyingly violent spirit of the captain’s ex-wife.

“The Housemaid” is liberally peppered with nerve-jangling haunting sequences, enhanced by impressive special effects. The genre elements are more effective than the domestic drama, which feels like a soft rehash of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca,” with a twist of “The Sound of Music” once the captain’s snooty girlfriend arrives.

Still, the anything-goes approach to this pivotal moment of world history makes Nguyen’s “Housemaid” uncommonly entertaining. The movie crackles with the tension of real-world ethnic and class conflicts, then ditches subtlety in favor of screeching, murderous ghosts.

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