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She should have known it when she sucked him off. South Korea’s The Housemaid offers one of the douchebaggiest images ever committed to the big screen: As the young title character performs fellatio on her rich, spoiled boss, he outstretches his arms and flexes. It’s surprising that he’s not looking at himself in a mirror. What a dick.
This show of arrogance, though, is only a mild foreshadowing of what’s to come. The Housemaid is the slow-burning soap opera centered on Eun-yi (Do-yeon Jeon), a young woman who takes a job as a nanny and housekeeper to one of Seoul’s richest families. The similarly aged, princess-y wife, Hae-ra (Seo Woo), is ready to burst with twins and already has a precocious five-year-old, Nami (Seo-Hyeon Ahn). Hae-ra spends her days exercising, reading, and being bathed (Eun-yi and her superior, Ms. Cho, even wash Miss Thang’s hair) and her nights drinking wine and having sex with her husband, Hoon (Jung-Jae Lee).
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But Hae-ra is not enough. Soon Hoon shows up at Eun-yi’s bedside, feeling her up and demanding that she remove the blanket covering her. It’s an uncomfortable scene, to say the least—until Eun-yi goes for it, apparently as hot for him as he is for her. That she genuinely likes Hae-ra and adores Nami (and even sweet-talks the babies in her mistress’ belly) doesn’t seem to be a factor. She’s glowing, and the curt Ms. Cho not only surreptitiously finds out why, she tells Hae-ra’s lioness mother.
A remake of a 1960 Korean thriller, The Housemaid was written and directed by Im Sang-soo with maximum stylishness (lots of aerial shots of the couple’s highly polished black-and-white mansion and its grounds) and tendency to infuriate (see: cocksucking). The theme (yes, some thrillers have a theme) is the divide between the rich and the working class—more specifically, the belief of the former that 1) money can make any problem go away and 2) they are outside the law. Their servants, meanwhile, crazily believe in the goodness of all humanity. Which means that Eun-yi thinks Hoon cares for her. And that, if anyone could possibly find out, no one would tell. But if that happens, all would be forgiven after a few heartfelt apologies, no?
Um, no. Eun-yi’s actions, as we all learned in Sex Ed, have consequences, and those consequences have consequences of the darkest sort. “Accidents” start to happen; everyone’s expression turns sour. The rabbit hole these people go down is twisted, compelling, and, somewhat sickeningly, believable—at least until the very end, which offers a finale that’s dramatic yet completely head-scratching. “Oh my fucking God, let’s get out of here!” a character says in reaction to the nearly apocalyptic coda. At that point, the audience will be ready to go, too.