August 7, 2014
By Pete Barell
Arts and Entertainment Editor
Michael Walker’s “The Maid’s Room” starts simply enough. Drina (Paula Garces) is a young, attractive Colombian woman who takes a job as a live-in maid to the Crawford family, who are? rich-and-powerful New Yorkers with a gated house in the Hampton’s on Long Island. “She’s better than the others,” says Mrs. Crawford (Annabella Sciorra). “At least she speaks English.” The Crawfords are away most of the time, working in the city, but Drina is left with their teenage son Brandon (Phillip Ettinger), who flirts with her by offering some Kit-Kats (her favorite candy) and making sure to break into the liqueur cabinet with his friends when throwing a small shindig.
One night as Drina sleeps in the maid’s room beneath her (appropriately strong female lead) “Erin Brockovich” poster, she notices Brandon noisily and drunkenly pull his car into the garage, stumble inside and proceed to use the sink for a while. The next morning, playing detective, she finds a bloody sponge and the front of the car ruined – he’d obviously been in an accident. Mr. Crawford (Bill Camp) comes down hard on his son, berating his lack of responsibility, and then fishing out information from the hapless Drina. “It was a deer,” says Brandon. No, no it wasn’t. The ripped out newspaper articles and ultra-stressed Crawford family prove other-wise. But they’ve got a legacy to uphold. Nothing will get in the way of Brandon going to Princeton next year, not even murder.
Drina falls into a (very) uncomfortable situation – turn in Brandon and get deported as an illegal immigrant, or take a great sum of money from Mr. Crawford, who thinks he’s got everything under control. Her morality gets the better of her, but that doesn’t stop the Crawford’s from forcefully detaining her, the maid’s room literally becoming a prison. Alas, Drina has friends who know where she is. They come knocking.
The score in “The Maid’s Room” dances from two, sometimes unfitting extremes – like an oddly hopeful fantasy (ala “Chronicles of Narnia”) or else a 1930’s or 40’s suspense film swelling with ominous pianos and melodrama. Speaking of which, “The Maid’s Room” takes blaring influence from Alfred Hitchcock, hobbled together like a modernized collage of his films (even directly referencing shots), predominantly “Blackmail,” “Rear Window,” “Psycho,” and the dark, upper-class schmaltz of “Rebecca”. For this very reason, the film seems unfocused and not sure of what it really wants, sampling from a buffet of story, but never settling into it’s own groove and identity.
Unlike other Hitchcock rehashes, like “Disturbia,” this film fails to lock itself down, first moving slowly (we see Drina’s job explained, in long-winded detail) and then too quickly, where several characters would benefit from a more personal exposure to the audience. Mrs. Crawford in particular seems to take a back-seat later in the film, superseded by the men in her house.
“The Maid’s Room” changes into a very different beast half-way through, shifting focus to the Crawford family guilt, suddenly incorporating flashbacks and a noted increase of an ‘Amityville Horror” feeling of surrealism and psychological horror – such as a symbolic infestation of ants. Perhaps that element stresses the ultimate theme of the film, convoluted by etch-e-sketch characterization and flaky, overdone dialogue (“You’re nothing. You’re not even a person. You’re dirt.”) that spoiled upper-class folks, who seem to have all of the power, can still be reduced to murderous, bumbling mistake-makers. If only this theme was orchestrated in a more seducing, clean way the film would be more than a couple hours worth of head-scratching and (unwanted, I’d assume) laughs.
“The Maid’s Room” opened in limited theatrical release on August 8.