REVIEW: The Handmaiden

The Handmaiden is a difficult movie to discuss without ruining the film. It’s one of the films best to watch knowing as little as possible. The trailer is sufficient preparation–it gives you a sense of what the movie is about without actually telling you what the movie is about. I don’t intend to write any spoilers, but if you haven’t seen the movie yet and have any desire or intention to, stop reading right here. Don’t read any other reviews. Don’t watch any scenes on youtube. You can watch the trailer, but that’s it. It’s a good movie. Just go watch it.

Still, even if I lost some (or all) readers there, I am obliged to go on with this review. I will try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible.

The premise of this film is that as part of a conman’s plot to marry a rich orphan and gain her fortune (before declaring her insane and throwing her into an asylum), a thief is planted in the house as the rich orphan’s handmaiden. It is her duty to aid the conman and get her mistress to fall in love with him.

Complications arise.

I won’t go in to anymore plot details, but what I will say is that the film manages, very successfully, to pull you along. Things move at a quick enough pace that viewers don’t have time to wonder what if or maybe or hmmm–they have only the time to comprehend what is before them. We do not have time to ask the questions–let alone figure out what the real questions are. It is not rushed however. Individual scenes are not flashes. Rather, individual scenes are chosen carefully so that while they may be long and sufficient, they also always keep the plot moving just enough.

From a visual angle, the film is often beautiful, and more often disturbing. Sexual sadism rears its head in this film, and while the worst is heard and not seen, the atmosphere is persistently perverse. There is something wrong about this home and the people in it. Though the details and depths of this depravity are not revealed for sometime, the sense that something sinister lurks is present from first sight. That is not to say the atmosphere is gloomy or anything like that–there are many moments of levity and even sensual scenes. The wonder of this film lies in how it is able have us entangled in all its running themes, in both the romance and the dread.

And, of course, the suspense.

The movie will be playing at the Michigan Theater throughout the week. Student tickets are $8.


KJ is a junior studying Mathematics and Creative Writing. She is entangled in the library system and desperate to break free. Her free time is spent staring at a wall. She felt obliged to write this bio.

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