For Reel

The Housemaid (1960)
February 15, 2016, 4:22 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Kim Ki-young
4 Stars
The HousemaidThe framing device of The Housemaid establishes the film as a fable, serving both to warn men about the dangers of their philandering impulses and suggesting how vulnerable bourgeois homelife can be to outside influences. A husband (Kim Jin-kyu) reads an article to his wife (Ju Jeung-ryu) about how a housemaid tore apart a family, which prompts them to reflect on how reliant they themselves are on their own servant. So begins a fever dream in which class boundaries are shattered and a comfortable, two-story Westernized home becomes a prison to the family that inhabits it. As the eponymous housemaid, Lee Eun-shim is effectively terrifying–she’s a cunning, animalistic id, whose satisfaction at disposing of a rodent early in her tenure should have been enough of a warning sign. Director Kim Ki-young accentuates the levels of discomfort the film operates in by the unrelenting camera movements and score–the music is often diegetic, with Eun-shim pounding away at dissonant chords on a piano. Furthermore, the horizontal tracking shots that view the interior of the house from the outside gives a full perspective to the chaos. In these images, one side of the house is shown to be completely glass, as if serving as a dollhouse for the audience to peak inside. Similarly, although the husband and wife often speak of the size of the house, it is filmed with an insistence on claustrophobia, most evident by the number of scenes that take place on a narrow staircase. The staircase itself comes to serve as a metaphor for both the shifting power dynamic and the discombobulation of the characters, who struggle to maintain their sanity in this hallucinatory, nightmarish thriller.

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