In Michael Walker’s highly atmospheric psychological thriller “The Maid’s Room,” obsessive curiosity propels the exploration of a gated Hamptons estate by a newly hired Columbian maid. When anchored to its heroine’s cool inquisitiveness and its evocation of the unknown and the forbidden, enabled by gliding camerawork and a suspenseful score, the film easily commands viewers’ attention. But when the p.o.v. shifts and the sociopolitical subtext — poor immigrants vs. the filthy rich — is thrust into the foreground, character definition, dialogue and action wind up frightfully overdetermined. Nevertheless, the film’s spooky moodiness could partly percolate in VOD play during and after its limited theatrical run.
Arriving at her new job, Drina (Paula Garces) is greeted by a brusque Mr. Crawford (Bill Camp), to whom she clearly registers as a meaningless detail, and a condescending Mrs. Crawford (Annabella Sciorra), who compliments her on her surprisingly good English and trusts she’ll be intelligent enough to know when the silver needs polishing. The Crawfords spend most of their time in the city, with only their Princeton-bound son, Brandon (Philip Ettinger), left in residence.
Left largely to her own devices, Drina roams the imposing mansion in the course of her duties, opening locked drawers, listening at doors and visually dominating the house as she dominates the film. Coolly beautiful, Drina remains a mysterious figure at the film’s center, with writer-director Walker ascribing just enough character traits to ground her actions. Her extreme curiosity seemingly stems from a desire to understand the alien world into which she has wandered rather than from any kind of covetousness. At the same time, her voyeurism, when extended to Brandon, takes on a sexual coloration: She’s alternately repelled by his drunken friends and attracted by his puppyish friendliness.
But when Drina sees Brandon return drunk one night, his car bearing the traces of a fatal accident, she figures out what has happened and the film’s dynamics change radically. The Crawfords, in their frantic desire to protect their son and their upper-crust entitlement, alternately outrageously bribe Drina or ruthlessly threaten her while the film rapidly sinks into a nocturnal nightmare, the estate’s isolation and self-containment becoming increasingly sinister.
Unfortunately, the ensuing disintegration of the patrician family, decked out in horror-film tropes though it might be, suffers greatly from the script’s caricatured one-percenters, whose villainy boasts neither credibility nor panache. Representatives of the immigrant poor equally fail to read as fully fleshed-out characters, particularly once Drina’s beauty no longer distracts viewers from the one-dimensionality of the rest of the cast. Despite Scott Miller’s superlative lensing, the film’s almost cartoonish sense of class conflict soon swamps its initial, visual attraction.