Sebastián Silva’s melodrama The Maid stars Catalina Saavedra as a domestic servant who’s been working for one family so long that they throw surprise birthday parties for her, and even help her with her chores when she needs it. When she starts to feel worn down and achy, Saavedra’s kindly, loyal employer Claudia Celedón suggests hiring an assistant. But the problem isn’t that Saavedra is a little fatigued, it’s that she may be losing her mind. Saavedra sabotages every new maid Celedón hires, framing them to look irresponsible, whiny, and dangerous. Finally, Celedón brings in someone Saavedra can’t push around—the genial, high-spirited Mariana Loyola—and the younger servant makes it her mission to treat her elder as part of the household, in need of a good tidying up.
Silva moves The Maid through multiple modes over the course of an hour and a half. Early on, Silva emphasizes the pitiless grind of Saavedra’s job: how she wakes up before everyone else in the house, spends all day re-cleaning rooms she cleaned earlier, and ends her day eating alone in the kitchen. Once the assistants show up, The Maid falls halfway between psychological suspense and dark comedy, as Saavedra’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic and she comes up with ways to passive-aggressively torture all interlopers. By the end, The Maid has become a variation on the classic women’s weepie, with Saavedra fretting over losing the people she loves: the family she’s served for more than 20 years, and the new co-worker who rekindled her spirit.
At one point, one of the assistant maids gripes at Saavedra that she’d be happier if she just did her job, but Saavedra has known Celedón’s children their whole lives, and has given up her own youth to take care of them. How can she not feel emotionally involved? The Maid is a little uneven in tone, and it may not be much more than a slight character sketch, but Silva and Saavedra get across the ennui and irony of a woman who’s been working diligently for two decades, only to find that her closest human relationships are with people who hold her job security in their hands. Even at its most upbeat, The Maid is something of a tragedy.