Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten. Data-based on Rotten Tomatoes

Grade:  B+

Director:  Michael Walker

Screenplay:  Michael Walker

Cast:  Bill Camp, Philip Ettinger, Paula Garcés, Annabella Sciorra

Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 7/9/14

Opens:  August 8, 2014

Recall this recent news item.  A family in California hired a maid/nanny to take care of their house.   She was fine for a while, but soon she began to act like Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener, the guy whose boss asked why he stopped working and would not leave the firm and getting the reply “I prefer not to.”  This nanny, who scammed many people before, refused to leave the house, taking advantage of an odd California law that states that if you offer a bed and board to a person, she has certain proprietary rights and can be evicted only by going through a few months of proceeding.  In other words, sometimes it doesn’t pay to hire a maid.

This is true as well in Michael Walker’s “The Maid’s Room,” a thoroughly tense, Hitchcockian tale of murder and deception in the Suffolk, New York summer home and extensive property of a Mr. Crawford (Bill Camp), his wife (Annabella Sciorra), and their teen son Brandon (Philip Ettinger).

The Crawfords hire a live-in maid, Drina (Paul Garcés) to look after the teenager.  Everyone gets along, the young man harboring sexual thoughts about the young Colombian woman—particularly after the boy has just been refused by someone his own age.  When young Philip returns home, the front of his car demolished, a newspaper article stating that the police are looking for a hit-and-run driver, Drina suspects the truth—that Philip did not hit a deer as he told his dad but rather than he is accidentally, albeit in a drunken state, killed a man.

Much of the fascination in the tale comes from the father’s communication with his son.  He obviously loves Philip and is willing to advise him whether asked or not.  The father is particularly irked that his son has been fearful all his life, and excuses Philip for hitting the man: he understands and will do anything to protect his only child.  This leads the rich Mr. Crawford to engage in illegal actions himself, particularly when he suspect that the maid will go to the police notwithstanding her own status as an undocumented alien without a green card.

Writer-director Walker, whose “Chasing Sleep” featured Jeff Daniels as a college professor trying to understand why his wife disappeared, keeps the story taut.  Following the Hitchcock model, meaning that we in the audience know the identities of the perpetrators of capital crimes, “The Maid’s Room” pits a wealthy, influential family against a poor but intelligent and ambitious woman and her Colombian boyfriend.  The mood is somber, the analysis of the psychology of father and son spot-on.  Watch especially the scene involving the son’s imagination of the hit-run scene, and the use of symbolism: ants and the father’s wig.

Rated R. 98 minutes. (c) 2014 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+

Acting – B+

Technical – B+

Overall – B+

the maids room

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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