In writer-director Michael Walker’s The Maid’s Room, Drina (Paula Garcés), an illegal immigrant with aspirations to higher learning, is offered a live-in position at a sprawling Hamptons estate owned by the prosperous Crawford family. When asked by a friend, Carlos (Herman Chavez), why she wishes to work so far away from everyone she knows, Drina expresses a preference for being alone, a sentiment that also underscores her seclusion from her employers, as she’s only allowed out of “the maid’s room” to clear dishes from the table or polish silver. The mansion itself serves as a testament to the family’s impressive social status, though one that’s bound to erode, as foreshadowed by an ant infestation that, as metaphor, is as crude and overt as the film’s sticking it to the 1%.
Inciting that erosion is the family’s irresponsible son, Brandon (Philip Ettinger), who returns home drunk one night with a busted car, making the hoary claim that he hit a deer. Drina’s suspicions are aroused upon hearing news reports that a hit and run left a local man for dead and are ultimately proved right when the Crawford family patriarch (Bill Camp) offers her ample cash to keep quiet. At this point, rather than ponderously fixate on the investigation into the accident’s real cause, the film focuses on the genuine ethical quandary that grips Drina when she’s forced to choose between easy blood money for a secure future or going to the police. (Spoilers herein.) And upon unequivocally declaring the latter, the balance of power shifts from the have to the have not, and when it does, Mr. Crawford murders her to regain it.
Killing Drina off halfway through initially suggests The Maid’s Room might be bold enough to risk losing the audience’s empathy, yet the script so insistently establishes the woman as a working-class symbol of integrity (she even tacks an Erin Brockovich poster to her wall) that her presence continues hovering over the film even after she’s gone. The character is less of an individual, and one whom we wish to see avenged, than a transparent martyr for the collective sins of the wealthy few. And because she’s merely a representation of the working class, the necessary emotional impact is blunted when Carlos eventually breaches the Crawford castle walls to collect on their transgressions, using the family’s symbols of affluence—car alarms, monitors at the gate—against them. The film forgoes nuanced commentary on social standing to unambiguously pick a side and deliver a none-too-sublte reckoning to whom it perceives as the imperious. The rich, it says, are not people too.