Wow, I really need to work on doing more reviews for movies and music artists. Yeah, I am more of a gamer person.
This one shall be our first Asian horror movie review. This one I watched quite a long time ago but that does not matter now does it?
*warning: heavy movie spoilers*
The Maid is a Singaporean horror movie made in 2005.
The film takes place in Singapore during the Hungry Ghost festival (happens during the Chinese 7th Month, usually falls on August) where the Chinese people believe that the gates of heaven and hell open so the ghosts of the departed can come visit the world of the living. The film has a rather creepy beginning where a female voice pointing at a picture of a young maid, asking repeatedly where the girl is from and when was she born.
The film then focuses on a 18-year-old Filipino maid named Rosa Dimaano (whose picture was shown and pointed at in the beginning of the film) who recently arrives in Singapore during the first day of the ‘Ghost Month’. She works as a domestic maid to help pay for the medical expenses of her desperately ill younger brother. She is employed by the elderly Mr. and Mrs. Teo, who appear to be kind and sincere. The Teochew family run an Chinese Opera business, in particular during the Hungry Ghost Festival. The elderly couples have a mentally handicapped son called Ah Soon who immediately becomes fond of Rosa. You may also notice if you were listening carefully that Mrs. Teo’s voice is eerily familiar to the woman’s voice heard in the beginning of the movie.
While cleaning, Rosa accidentally cleans up/upsets the food offering meant for the dead. Mrs. Teo quickly comes out to lecture Rosa for doing so. As Rosa heads back in the house, she sees Mrs. Teo kneeling on the sidewalk (where the food was) asking for the spirits’ forgiveness as Rosa does not know the customs and rules for the Hungry Ghost Festival. However, shortly after this incident, Rosa begins having supernatural experiences. Especially regarding a young woman similar in height to Rosa, wearing a red Chinese wedding dress with red veil, who often appears to Rosa at different times.
At first Rosa does not tell Mr. and Mrs. Teo as the events occur and more frequently. Rosa eventually receives a letter from her home country, informing her that her younger brother has turned for the worse and that her parents’ need the money urgently soon as possible to pay for the medical expenses. Mrs. Teo informs Rosa that she can have her salary early to send to her sick younger brother, and that they will send it for her. Rosa thanks them earnestly as despite her fear of the supernatural happenings, she is desperate to save her little brother. Even after witnessing the death of her friend, who is supposedly possessed by a ghost when the shadow of a coffin from a passing hearse falls on the friend, allowing the ghost to possess her friend. The ghost possessing her friend, makes her friend commit suicide.
However, as the supernatural events become more frightening. It takes becomes scary for Rosa during a hungry ghost festival party where she was a Chinese opera puppet play. She runs from the ghost of dead woman clad in red, till she runs into Mr. Teo. She then finally admits that she is being followed by a spirit. Late at night, Mr and Mrs. Teo discuss in wonder of whom or what Rosa has offended. Rosa also begins to have doubts about Mr. and Mrs. Teo when the spirit of the dead woman reveals that they never sent any of the letters Rosa has written to be sent to her parents back in the Philippines. Rosa quickly grabs all her un-sent letters, runs outside and jams all letters into the letter box while crying.
While Mr and Mrs. Teo are out, Rosa hears an ominous sound coming from a shady area of the house. As she investigates, she finds the ashes of the dead maid before her called Esther. She realizes the spirit haunting her is the ghost of Esther. Esther shows Rosa through a vision on how she had died. Ah Soon was playing with Esther when he had accidental and unintentionally raped her. Ah Soon’s parents’ witnessed this and were frightened that they may be sued, so Mr. Teo in fear beat Esther till she was helpless and then burned her alive. They then hid her ashes in a jar.
When the vision finishes, Rosa in her fear tries to run but runs into Ah Soon. During the struggle, she stabs Ah Soon only to realize that he is a ghost, as he shows no sign of ever being stabbed with the knife. The events begin to fall into place regarding Ah Soon such as why a bicycle nearly ran into Ah Soon, why the man cleaning the table in the hawker center swept food onto him was because Ah Soon was dead. We then find out how and why Ah Soon is dead. He had killed himself shortly after Esther’s death, but he returned as a ghost looking for Esther because he had fallen in love with the dead maid.
Rosa is knocked unconscious from behind by Mr. Teo. When she awakens, she finds herself dressed in the same dress that Esther had worn, expect no red veil and she has a noose tied around her neck. As she struggles, Mrs. Teo explains to Rosa the real reason why they ‘hired’ her.
In Chinese belief, they believe even the ghosts of the departed can still marry. They invited her to work for them in Singapore was because they wanted to sacrifice her so that she can be the bride of Ah Soon. They wanted Ah Soon to have a bride to keep him company in the afterlife when the gates were close. The seventh month is soon drawing to its end so they want to kill her before the month ends. Rosa at first refuses to this but Mrs. Teo makes Rosa feel guilt by using her sick brother against her. They promise her that they will bring her young brother to Singapore to receive medical care which they will pay for and will support his education. This forces Rosa to agree due to her love for her younger brother.
When Mr. Teo removes the chair, Rosa begins to suffocate. However, Ah Soon who is in the same room with them, suddenly remembers how Esther died. In his outrage, he confronts his father and demands no more deaths in the house. During the struggle with Ah Soon, Mr. Teo bumps into the worship table which pours oil all over him then he is set alight when a candle falls on him. Mr. Teo dies from being burned alive.
As Rosa is nearing death, Esther reappears in front of Rosa. Esther asks her what would Rosa do if she helped Rosa to live. Rosa promises Esther to bring her back home by bringing Esther’s ashes back to the Philippines in return for her help. Esther’s spirit agrees to this and breaks the rope around Rosa’s neck. As Rosa recovers, Mrs. Teo now desperate in finishing what her husband started, picks a knife up in attempt to stab Rosa. Rosa quickly gets up and runs out of the house, onto the deserted street. As Mrs. Teo follows her with the knife help up, she is suddenly struck down by a speeding truck. An ending which I always found cliche, and oddly humorous.
At the ending of the movie which is last day of the hungry ghost month, we see Rosa walking into the airport holding the jar containing Esther’s ashes to return home. Rosa’s monologue starts stating that she was finally returning home and so is Esther. As she enters the airport, we see the spirits of Mr and Mrs. Teo and Ah Soon watching her departure from Singapore as reflections on the sliding glass door.
So when I first watched this movie, I admit I was rather terrified out of my wits. I’m not really good with horror movies but considering I have seen this movie a couple of times now. It is not that scary although the build up of suspense towards its climax is rather well-done. The film really was well put together in terms of linking the events, the first appearance of Esther and seeing the increasingly odd behavior of the elderly couple. It is also interesting on how they make Ah Soon have a sudden moment of clarity when he is meant to be mentally handicapped.
We were given the impression that Ester may be trying to harm Rosa when she was trying to warn Rosa. Even aiding Rosa in the end and revealing why she was trying to scare Rosa out of the Teo household. She was trying to save Rosa from what would have been her demise.
The ending was especially good in my opinion because we see our heroine leaving, but we see that she is watched by the spirits of the couple who tried to kill her accompanied by their dead son. I still think the whole sudden truck hits the final ‘villain’ to be random, especially since she stops in the middle of the road rather abruptly in time to be struck down.
I really liked how they brought elements of the Chinese beliefs regarding the Hungry Ghost Festival and kept true to those customs. My mother is Buddhist and since Buddhists do celebrate the Ghost Month, I am familiar with those customs and beliefs. So the film-makers were sensitive in bringing all of that together while trying to make sure they did not offend anyone.
Also, for an Singaporean horror film, it did not do too bad. It actually broke box office for horror genre and earned $700,000 in the opening weekend alone. So that was pretty impressive. Anyone interested in watching an Singaporean horror film, a horror film fanatic, a supernatural film with references to the Hungry Ghost Festival or whatever should consider watching this movie.