Servants' Quarters Movie Review
Written by Ren Zelen
Released by Aviary Films
Written and directed by Paul Raschid
2016, 105 minutes, Not yet rated
Raindance 2016 world premiere on 23rd September 2016
Tom Benedict Knight
Amy Mustafi (Jenna Harrison) a high-flying city lawyer, moves into Winterstoke House, an estate in the English countryside which has just been purchased by her wealthy husband Shayan Mustafi (Tom Benedict Knight). Amy is a workaholic and has struggled with Bipolar Disorder since her teens. Suffering burnout due to stress and following a manic episode in her workplace, Amy has been prescribed several kinds of medication and ordered to take time off.
Her husband hopes she will find distraction in preparing the grand house for his return from finalising a business deal in L.A. but as Amy sets up her dream home, she finds that the isolation, lonely nights and suspicions regarding her husband’s trip abroad, begin to affect her fragile mental state.
Her husband has engaged a Romanian housekeeper (Candis Nergaard) and her brother (director Paul Raschid) to help Amy cope with the house and grounds. When Amy discovers a sealed door to the former servants’ quarters she insists that her superstitious and reluctant employees help her to open it and explore what may lie within.
Amy becomes curious as to the history of the house and the aristocratic family that had owned it for centuries. Enlisting the help of local academics, she discovers that in 1914, three servants disappeared and the estate was swiftly abandoned by its former owner, who never returned. She becomes obsessed with solving the mystery.
After opening the long-forgotten door, a series of seemingly supernatural incidents occur and Amy begins to wonder if she has awoken something malevolent that now again walks the corridors of Winterstoke House.
In Paul Raschid’s Servants' Quarters, the ‘haunted house’ story becomes a catalyst and a metaphor that blurs the distinction between reality and hallucination, revealing the thin line between sanity and the suffering of mental illness.
What sets this film apart from more conventional supernatural horrors is the central figure of Amy, affectingly played by Jenna Harrison. Like Carole (Catherine Deneuve) in Polanski’s psychological horror Repulsion, Amy’s psyche begins to crumble when left alone in a large, empty house. When she discovers its questionable history and unseals the locked door of the servants' quarters, she also opens the Pandora’s Box of her own mind.
Amy begins to glimpse terrifying scenes, some of which hearken back to the fractured psyche of her own past. The house becomes imbued with the terror and malevolence of the previous inhabitants. Has Amy really unleashed something from the dark past, or are these all ghosts borne out of Amy's mental instability?
Interestingly enough, we are never sure what Amy may be imagining, what she is remembering, and what she is truly seeing. Do these demonic presences exist beyond her mind and do they have a vindictive purpose of their own?
In Servants' Quarters, Paul Raschid successfully conveys the psychologically disturbing unreliability of one’s perceptions when suffering from the torment of mental illness. The movie is not just an effective supernatural horror; its horrors are based in psychology, particularly the anguished struggle to regain control over one’s own mind and life.