Vietnam, 1953, and housemaid Linh (Kate Nhung) has made a dreadful discovery. She was employed by the French Captain, Sebastian Laurent (Jean-Michel Richaud), to attend to duties around his mansion on this rubber plantation, but became convinced there was a mysterious presence there, a suspicion only confirmed when she hears a terrible commotion from the ailing Captain's bed chamber. On entering, she sees blood everywhere and the man stabbed to death, so naturally the police become involved and she is questioned, which is where she relates the whole sorry story of how she came to be in this situation and what exactly happened to the staff...
Don't get The Housemaid confused with The Handmaiden, that was set in Korea, whereas this was a Vietnamese movie and more of a horror with a supernatural leaning as the peasant girl we follow through the plot has a definite belief in ghosts (no matter that her mother told her there was no such thing). But ghosts were present here, even if not in the manner that you might have anticipated as there was a twist to the tale: the dead of the terrible conflicts this nation suffered in the twentieth century were sufficiently making an impression on the society that survived them to lend a pall of gloom to anything director Derek Nguyen chose to depict in this work.
He worked up a very nice atmosphere of dread, helped by a sheen of class that told you this was no tawdry shocker but a more upmarket chiller, no matter that it was happy to resort to CGI-heavy spooky setpieces, especially when it came to the sequences where the mayhem erupted and punishment was visited upon the characters. According to the cook, who claims to be a witch, the estate is haunted by the deceased wife of the Captain who was sent insane by her experiences in the restricted surroundings of French-occupied Vietnam, and wound up murdering her baby in its bathtub as a result. She then drowned herself in remorse, but that was not the last we saw of her.
Certainly Linh glimpses someone - or something - lurking and looming around the mansion, and in this ambience of paranormal activity, she may have become very suggestible, or there may be more to the sense of being watched by a malevolent spirit. As we had seen plenty of these sorts of ghost stories from out of this part of the world, you would not be too surprised at how this played out, though there was an interesting, if tentative, exploration of class in that our heroine is a lowly citizen who basically came to the house begging for charity and received it when the head housekeeper agreed to take her in, though she is a stern woman in contrast to the more approachable cook, or the groundskeeper for that matter, who Linh catches sight of haranguing and bullying his workers on the plantation.
Don't forget the workers there are on the same social level as Linh, so although the Captain, who improves in health the more he is around her, is a decent sort who wishes to make the best of a bad job as the war continues, the fact remains he is part of an oppressive force in the nation, and there will be those who either go along with that or decide they wish to rise up and overthrow it. Linh herself has lost her family in the conflict, so you might expect her to hold a grudge, though The Housemaid was a romance of sorts as well, so in best swooning costume drama style she and her employer fall in love, much to the chagrin of both the other staff and the Captain's peers for whom this relationship is a major no-no. However, there was that twist to consider, and as the ghostly wife begins to pick off the characters we had to ponder how far it would be possible to forgive this kind of international aggression. That said, the end revelation did depend on the authorities believing in phantoms to succeed, which strained credulity. Music by Jerome Leroy.
[Eureka's Blu-ray has a trailer as the sole extra, but the presentation is more than fine.]