The music begins before the story does in The Maid’s Room, and is consistently overwhelming until the end credits. That may sound like a minor issue, but there are various parts of this mostly single-set psychological thriller where the music ends up being so loud that it (presumably deliberately) drowns out the dialogue. Granted, little of the dialogue ever approaches any serious interest, but still, it’s typically good manners to let your audience hear the characters in your film speak. To its credit, The Maid’s Room sidesteps some amount of predictability thanks to a twist that arrives roughly an hour into the picture. But in going down one road instead of another, the film merely becomes portentous in a slightly different way.
The story begins with Drina (Paula Garces) interviewing for a maid’s position in a very fancy house in the Hamptons. The Crawfords (Bill Camp and Annabella Sciorra) seem like your average family that owns a house in the Hamptons: cheery, oblivious, and painfully bourgeoisie. (Sciorra’s character is quick to praise Drina’s mother for encouraging her to learn English, even if it’s accented.) Drina professes to a friend early on that she likes being alone, and for much of the first hour, Drina is on her own. She’s not even allowed to leave her room unless it’s do to the housework. Drina also appears to like to watch, as she finds herself compelled to watch the Crawfords’ son Brandon (Philip Ettinger) as he hangs out with his college-age friends and get hammered. But one night, Brandon’s drinking leads to him getting behind the wheel and getting into a hit-and-run accident. Drina only is able to piece this together, but once that happens, she has to decide if a stranger’s life matters more than her own well-being.
In the first act, there are hints of Drina’s curiosity getting the better of her in ways that might lead down a more prurient path. (Her choice to ignore a phone call from Sciorra’s character in favor of spying on Brandon makes you wonder what she’s thinking.) Writer-director Michael Walker, however, zigs instead of zags, forcing Drina to ask herself if ethics matter more than money. What’s surprising about The Maid’s Room–which makes it somewhat difficult to discuss in true detail–is that the question is answered so quickly that there’s still about 40 minutes left in the picture. Walker has one trick up his sleeve, but in revealing it, he doesn’t ratchet up the tension or lift The Maid’s Room up to another, better level. The same amount of portentousness that pervades the first hour doesn’t vanish, it merely is placed on a different narrative.
And, unfortunately, The Maid’s Room is awfully self-important without ever earning it. Garces and Camp, arguably the main characters of the piece, do well enough, but even the best actors can’t make wandering around a palatial manse in the Hamptons look compelling for more than a few minutes. Here, in effect, is the most serious issue with the film: there’s not nearly enough story here for a 100-minute feature. Even with the reversal of focus midway through, this is a modern-day would-be O. Henry short story, ironic ending and all, that shouldn’t be more than an hourlong episode of some anthology TV series. Walker isn’t without some level of directorial chops, but this story is better off as a short. (Perhaps if it was trimmed, the eye-roll-worthy metaphor about an unkillable swarm of ants parading around the house would be axed.) The Maid’s Room is not as predictable as it initially seems, but it’s far less impressive than its bombastic score and puffed-up script would believe.