Nasty people can be fascinating and even a bit cathartic. They can also be really tiresome. For nearly three-quarters of his low-budget film, Sebastián Silva comes dangerously close to delivering a one-note, dark-hearted sitcom that trades in the kind of consequence-free scheming and claustrophobic tension that wears out its sociopathic welcome. Luckily, just as its intriguing cultural undertones are about to be ground into wacky misanthropy, Silva introduces a bittersweet and introspective final act that makes you wish the movie had found its legs a bit earlier.
Catalina Saavedra is intense as Raquel, a reserved and clearly exhausted Chilean maid who has traded her own life's happiness for decades of service to the family that employs her. She's watched the children grow up, dealt with familial upheavals and ruled over a domestic landscape that was never her own. And those years have taken their toll, leaving the shy but sourpuss maid devoid of a personal identity and given to sudden feinting spells. When the family brings in extra help, Raquel sees it as a mortal threat to her domain, and dedicates herself to sabotaging each new hire. One by one, her adversaries fall, undone by her psychotic scheming until confident, free-spirited and patient Lucy (Mariana Loyola) is brought onto the payroll. Soon, Raquel begins to understand the price of her cloistered existence and the true value of friendship.
The Maid is the kind of small, foreign-language film Hollywood will inevitably adapt into a heee-larious contest of catty female wills, revving up the gleeful mean-girl tactics into high-concept comedy. And they'd be capitalizing on the least interesting part of Silva's real-life experiences turned cinematic. Though his family is too one-dimensional and his comedic touch too light to service the darker implications of his story, The Maid's final act brings Raquel's story into human-sized focus, delivering well-earned redemption to a character we thought we hated. Beneath her layers of antisocial affectation there's an honest heart beating against the real-world costs of servitude and mistaking her employers for friends. Anyone who has worked in such a position will recognize the sentiments. Anyone who's employed such people, they would do well to pay attention.
Opens Christmas day at the Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.