FrightFest may be almost over, but it still has a few surprises, including The Maid, which knocked me out of the park. It’s also the first Thai horror film I’ve seen–and what a way to start! (If anyone has any recommendations…hit me up.)
The film begins with a short introduction showing us this absolutely gorgeous mansion that is most definitely haunted. After putting the young Lady Nid to bed, the maid is chased by a monkey in a suit, the girl’s doll seemingly brought to life. The next day, she tells Madame Uma, “You know what? I quit.” I appreciate this as many characters seem determined to stick it out when it comes to ghosts and other spooky happenings—why not just leave? (If money and everything else aren’t a factor, of course.)
Nid seeing the spectre is dismissed as a form of childhood dementia. She’s secluded in the house, spending her days drawing. Next, we follow Joy as she becomes the new maid. Joy becomes acquainted with the Master, Madame and young Lady, who she bathes and reads to at night.
Since the entirety of the film (besides a flashback) takes place in this house, it’s an essential character itself–and boy, is it a fantastic set. I originally pegged The Maid as taking place somewhere around the 1940s, due to the technology and style. It wasn’t until the climax that you see a smartphone or any modern device, so this old-fashioned approach feels deliberate and timeless.
The costumes are also fitting for mid-century, with velvets, tailored suits, soft off-whites, deep red dresses, and the Madame using a long cigarette holder. (Fun fact, I just learned that these are sometimes called quellazaires. Great word.)
So, since this is a ghost story primarily, we see glimpses of a maid grinning at both Joy and Nid, who seem to be the only ones to see it. I’m a big fan of films that put ghosts or other spooky things in the corner of the screen, hidden from the main characters. It rewards you for paying attention and adds atmosphere.
A classic aspect of ghost stories is discovering why the spirit lingers; we all know that it’s either a tragic death or a murder. You inherently feel the ghost is justified and hope they achieve peace and can move on. You’re rooting for the main character but also, in a way, the antagonist.
I feel like The Maid is really about how things can get out of hand quickly, snowballing a minor issue into a lifelong issue. Decisions made while stressed or during chaos can be the totally wrong way to handle it. Like the bystander effect, we don’t know what to do and it isn’t until someone takes the first move that the ball gets rolling. Unfortunately if that ball is rolling in a bad direction…We get a situation like this.
I’ll be getting into spoilers now, so beware!
Through flashbacks, we learn more about Uma, her husband Nirach, and the former maid, a young woman named Ploy. After finding a photograph of Ploy hidden in a book, Joy asks about her and Uma tells her, “She is not important”—an obvious lie. There is some clear conflict between the married couple, with Uma feeling lonely and neglected. She and Ploy soon find love and companionship with each other and begin an affair. A nice touch is that the book The Scarlet Letter, both a reference to the affair and where secret photographs are kept. Both husband and wife are seen reading it at different points in the film.
Jealously soon runs rampant as Ploy also begins an affair with Nirach and becomes pregnant. Nid is not actually Uma’s daughter, a fact they sought to cover up. It’s akin to a soap opera plotline, but these characters are played so well that it doesn’t feel overdone. Every element compliments each other.
Finally, the truth is revealed: Ploy cracked her skull on the bathtub and was assumed dead, buried alive by the other servants. At this point, I figured the plot would be wrapping up, but this was only the halfway point. It completely flips, with Joy turning from a sweet, shy girl to a cold-blooded killer with surprising ease.
Her big moment comes when they host a fabulous party, with all the guests dressed in white suits and dresses, Uma in blood red. One by one, Joy works her way through the household, exacting vengeance on those who brought about Ploy’s untimely death. The violence here feels heavy and packs a bigger punch because of the first half’s build-up and it is so, so good. Joy’s anger is put into every swing.
The only loose end I can think of is why did one of the maids see the monkey doll come to life in the intro? It never returns, although Nid is shown with the stuffed toy many times. Was it a trick by Ploy’s ghost, scaring her off to open the position for Joy to swoop in? Joy was told her sister went “missing,” but she knew of the mansion. But this is just a tiny nitpick.
The love and attention to each shot are palpable, and I commend the crew for creating such a stylish horror film that so seamlessly goes from one sub-genre to the other. In a festival so jam-packed with films, this one really stood out to me.