We appear to be in the home stretch here. The pain is not as it once was, but it still means I can not type for longer than a few minutes without my wrist hurting or my fingers from going numb. So the dictated reviews and a ridiculous posting schedule continues on.
A good ending is the key to every film. It seems obvious to say this, but after watching The Housemaid I have become acutely aware of just how a poor ending can taint your opinion of a movie that was, otherwise, really quite good.
So let us dive on right in. The Housemaid was only discovered by the West some 40 years after its initial release in South Korea. I say “discovered” in the same way that Christopher Columbus “discovered” North America. However, the idea that there is great cinema out there yet to be discovered and lauded by anyone outside
its native country is rather exciting.
Having only seen South Korean films produced in the last 15 years this was something very different. The closest that I can liken it to is if you take Fatal Attraction, shoot it in the style of film noir and then release it in Korean. I did not expect this to become such a thriller when I first started watching it; one of life’s little surprises.
Foreshadowing really is the name of the game in this film. Pretty much everything you need to know happens in the first 5 to 10 minutes. A particular piece of foreshadowing that I enjoyed was the focus on two children playing a game of cat’s cradle with the credits rolling over the top. It was a nice way to signal the entrapment about to occur.
In many ways this is a story that many filmgoers would have seen before. A (somewhat unhinged) maid is invited to work for a family and psychological horror ensues with rat poison as a recurring motif. What sets this apart is both the music (which is as unhinged as the maid herself) and how the director has chosen to focus many shots on everyday objects. It just makes you feel like this is Anywhere, South Korea and so this situation could happen to anyone. The ending hammers the time with the force of an atom bomb so I would recommend skipping the last 2 minutes.
Also impressive is the sense of claustrophobia that you get in this film. It is a feeling that just gets worse and worse as the film progresses. This is somewhat helped by Eun-shim Lee in her role as the titular housemaid. There is something off about her right from the word go and she just goes from strength to strength as the increasingly deranged and vengeful housemaid. At no point is this woman treated well by any member of the family, so is little wonder things end up going the way they do.
Like I said, really good film, really awful ending.
Lately I have found that I have started yelling “no means no” when I see a film or TV show where a man won’t leave a woman alone when she’s made it perfectly clear that she doesn’t want to be with him. It’s been a long time since I have done this with as much gusto as during Repulsion.
The film centres around Carol (Catherine Deneuve) a Belgian woman living in London with her sister. The titular refers to Carol’s own revulsion of the opposite sex. It is very clear that this girl has been through some sort of sexual trauma (possibly her father or uncle) and so finds incredibly difficult to be around men. What is unclear is why it is at this point in her life that she starts to go psychotic.
I mention the whole “no means no” thing as nothing bad would have happened in the film should the men in Carol’s life have adhered to this. Whilst on some level I do understand why Colin keeps trying to get her to talk to him… but the length he ends up going to (aka literally bashing her door down) is ridiculously extreme. So is her reaction to him doing so, but the whole grisly situation could have been avoided if he had just taken the hint to leave her alone.
This film takes a leaf out of the surrealist instruction manual when constructing the world of Carol’s madness. The cracking walls and the groping arms reaching out from the walls have become so synonymous with pop culture that they became a throwaway gag in an episode of Absolutely Fabulous. I mean, it’s a fantastic idea but the effect has been lost after its repeated parody. More affecting are her visions of her own rape where despite seeing her screaming all we hear is the ticking of the clock. Also effective is the decay of a whole skinned rabbit over the course of the two weeks.
It is interesting to read people’s interpretations of Carol. To me it is a film about a rape survivor that never got the help she needed, which means her feelings have been allowed to mutate into this insanity. It also appears to be a part of Carol’s life that her sister has no knowledge of (unless that is the reason they moved from Belgium to London).
This film does leave you with a lot to chew on. However, my big gripe is the pacing. It starts off way too slowly which means that the build up peters out before the actual horror starts. Considering this is thought by many to be Polanski’s masterpiece I have to say that I disagree and I would still prefer to watch Rosemary’s Baby over this.