TIFF 2010: THE HOUSEMAID Review

Todd Brown, Founder and Editor
Slick, polished and sexy, Im Sangsoo's The Housemaid is the sort of film simply not made in Hollywood any more. Directed with the same icy precision displayed by the coldly amoral family at its center, The Housemaid is an entirely grown-up thriller - one driven by lust, boredom, and not particularly subtle manipulation. And the general feeling on the street is that it's also the best film to screen in Cannes so far.

A remake of a 1960 classic, The Housemaid revolves around Lee Euny. A lower class, sweetly naive divorcee, Lee begins the film working in the kitchen of a cheap restaurant and sharing a tiny apartment with her only friend. Is it any wonder that she jumps at the opportunity to become the new nanny for the enormously wealthy Hoon family? If nothing else, she'll no longer have to share a bed with her friend.

The Hoon's are outwardly perfect. He is handsome and successful, a true power broker despite his youth. She is young and beautiful and heavily pregnant with twins, new siblings for the couple's young daughter. The daughter? Obviously very intelligent and mature beyond her years in truly adorable fashion. But you know what they say about perfection ... give it a scratch and who knows what may lie beneath.

In short, what lies beneath here is Mr Hoon's penis. Despite his smooth manners, the man has the sense of entitlement that comes from having been raised in extreme wealth, with everything he has ever wanted handed to him on a platter by a servant. Literally. Add to that an absolute lack of morals and is it any surprise that when his pregnant wife is unable to finish sex the way he likes Hoon soon finds his way into Lee's bed? And whether through naivite, loneliness or an equivalent lack of scruples, Lee welcomes him there. This, of course, does not end well and the women of the family prove to be far more vicious and uncaring than even Hoon himself.

Impeccably crafted and beautifully photographed, Im has created her a true piece of cinema, a work of art buffed and polished in all the right ways while still retaining a very true sense of character and balancing all of that out with just the appropriate dash of entertainer's showmanship. The script is very good, indeed, and the entire cast virtually flawless, though Park Ji-Young deserves special mention for the coldly brutal grace with which she imbues her performance as Hoon's vengeful mother in law.

Elegant when called for, savage once you dip beneath the surface, The Housemaid is a triumph for Im and one of the strongest thrillers to emerge from Korea in the past several years.
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