Vietnam, a land of mystery veiled in mist, of secrets hidden in the deep forests and buried in the soft earth, in 1953 much of it was under French control, the rebels trying to reclaim their home in what would become known as the First Indochinese War, and it is through that turmoil that Linh has come to Sa-Cat Estate to beg for work as the housemaid at the decaying mansion set in the grounds of a former rubber tree plantation.
Housekeeper Mrs Han (Kim Xuan) has little expectation of this girl who has walked in out of the rain but neither of them has much choice; told by the cook, Mrs Ngo (Phi Phung), of the stories that surround Sa-Cat, workers whipped to death and the bodies used as fertiliser, Linh was hired because no one else will work there, and she has nowhere else to go, her parents killed in an air raid and their farm destroyed.
The master of the house shot by the rebels, Linh is charged with taking care of Captain Sebastien Laurent (Jean-Michel Richaud) during his recovery, tending to his wounds, bathing him, feeding him, but she has been warned she must never speak to him of the tragedy of his wife.
Driven mad by the loneliness and isolation when her husband was away on duty, Madame Camille (Svitlana Kovalenko) first drowned their child in the bathtub and then herself in the lake, the body never found, but as Linh and Sebastien become closer the angry spirits of the plantation begin to stir.
The confident debut feature of writer/director Derek Nguyen, The Housemaid (Cô Hầu Gái) is as much a romance as a horror, carried by the blossoming friendship and affection between Linh and Sebastien made genuine and believable by the performances of Richaud and Nhung Kate.
Conditioned for obedience and servitude, to know her place and to keep her place and her silence, Linh breaks the rule of the house and engenders the resentment of the stern Mrs Han by becoming involved with Sebastien, a widower and a foreigner above her station in life, the situation further complicated by the arrival of Sebastien’s fiance.
Sebastien unwelcome in the land and Linh out of place in the household where she scrubs blood off the tiled floors and walks the hallways by lamplight, the eyes of the family portraits upon her, the slamming doors and unnecessary jump scares defuse rather than enhance the atmosphere of the beautiful but isolated location and the genuine tension of the strained relationships.
With the constant presence of water, baths and lakes and drownings, the themes of thwarted love and tragedy and revenge, as well as the presence of vintage cars, although the story unfolds in a very different direction there is much that reminds of Ghost Story and both are intelligent films built upon a flawless ensemble cast, and like that classic when the horror arrives it does not hold back.
The Housemaid is available from 19th February from Eureka Entertainment