(director/writer: Paris Zarcilla; cinematographer: Joel Honeywell; editor: Chris Chow; music: Jon Clarke; cast:  Max Eigenmann (Joy), Jaeden Paige Boadilla (Grace), Leanne Best (Katherine), David Hayman (Mr. Garrett), Caleb-Johnston-Miller (Orlando), Stepanie Connell (Old Woman), Oliver Wellington (Gary); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Chi Thai; Last Conker; 2023-UK-in English & Tagalog)

“A Gothic drama about an exploited Filipino immigrant in London.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The feature debut film by Paris Zarcilla, the British-born Filipino writer-director, is a Gothic drama about an exploited Filipino immigrant in London who gets caught in the snares of the British immigration system as she works for a white racist boss and tries to work under the radar to avoid deportation.
It’s slickly filmed, with chapter headlines.
It follows Joy (Max Eigenmann), an undocumented Filipino immigrant and single mom, who after many jobs as a housekeeper for the London rich works off the books as the house-cleaner for the remaining owner of a wealthy haunted British family estate, a brittle and terminally ill cancerous Mr. Garrett (David Hayman). She’s been hired by his evil aristocratic niece Katherine (Leanne Best), who is unaware she has a mischievous teenage daughter Grace (Jaeden Paige Boadilla) she must hide whenever Katherine is around.

The filmmaker has an eye for the lurid and works to recreate an older British ‘kitchen sink’ working-class Loach-styled realistic drama of class warfare.

It turns into a horror pic when Joy uncovers the house is haunted with old family secrets. But the filmmaker is more interested in telling how people of color in service jobs are treated as less than human and keep their lesser jobs in order to survive, which for him is the real horror story.

There’s no
subtlety used by the filmmaker as he rails against the British political system, caricatures the white racists as the bad guys and offers a sharply observed social critique all the while sympathizing with the immigrants.

It turns in a halting way as a pot-boiler with plenty of jump-scares in its second half, when the daughter observes Katherine trying to kill her uncle by feeding him harmful pills that keep him comatose. Joy thereby nurses him back to health when Katherine is away for a couple of weeks.

But the film loses its tone and direction by going for a different kind of horror story. It really wants to be a horror film of hope for the resilient but beleaguered colored woman immigrant who can win the life battle only if stronger than her poisonous white racist bosses and not accepting of those who try to dehumanize her.

Though it lacks clarity (not giving enough info about the white family’s checkered history), but it overcomes that by being such a disturbing film (especially in its bloody climax) about such a topical and controversial issue as immigration.

Jon Clarke’s powerful percussive musical score adds to the tense mood.

It played at the SXSW, where it won the grand jury award.

Raging Grace