The Housemaid (South Korea, 2010)

THE-HOUSEMAIDDirected by: Im Sang-soo. Would it be repulsive if I described this movie as an “erotic thriller”? I’d hate to scare anyone away from this film, because it’s a really well done, intriguing, slightly bizarre, slightly dangerous, slightly erotic film that is not altogether lacking in thrills—in short, an erotic thriller. Okay, it’s not exactly a thriller, but it sounds good. If I can indulge in some comparison-adjectives (which is pretty annoying sometimes, so I apologize in advance), I’d say that this feels almost like a steamy Ang Lee lustful romance story but with what I’m tempted to call a “characteristic” Korean undercurrent of sinister violence, but what I really mean is that it brings to mind the only other Korean directors I know—Kim Jee-woon (I Saw the Devil) and Park Chan-wook (Vengeance trilogy). At its heart, it’s just an intriguing story about a girl who gets drawn into an awful situation, but unlike the two gore-horror-suspense directors mentioned above, Im Sang-soo never tips it into the domain of true discomfort: the suspense here owes more to Hitchcock and Haneke than Eli Roth. Now that I mention it, Haneke is who I was thinking of when I was trying to pin down some kind of precedent I’d seen. This character, played by Jeon Do-yeon, has enough mischief in her eyes to always make you believe there’s more going on than what’s on the surface, and the same goes for the old veteran maid played by Yoon Yeo-jeong. The ambivalence of these two characters helps to offset the psychotic family characters, who sometimes felt a bit too much maybe. The fascinating question of why they’re so fucking evil and sadistic is left sort of hanging there, but as fascinating as they were to watch, it felt a bit flat. Perhaps that’s where the comparison with Kim and Park come from: in those movies, there is a presence of evil at work that isn’t accounted for other than the basic acceptance of a truly devilish and all-pervasive evil that fully constitutes and motivates those characters. It isn’t questioned, it’s just there to drive the story and provide the drama. Here, that ambiguity is a bit more central as a question, and overall I’d say that a sense of ambiguity and mystery itself are central to this drama in a way that is totally unnecessary in the Park or Kim films. The name Von Trier also comes to mind when I think of that almost occult sense of the unaccountable, of pure emotional energy that informs a lot of the dramatic content of the film (and if you’ve seen it to the end, you know what I mean). This film definitely begs for a re-watch or two (and not just because of the sexy bits either).

One response to “The Housemaid (South Korea, 2010)

  1. Pingback: Stoker (USA/UK, 2013) | Offhand Reviews·

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