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A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

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Paranormal Activity is weakest when most explicit: A clear shadow or a door swinging shut dilutes the dread. But I’ve never seen a movie that so cunningly exploits our anticipation. Every time Peli cut to another bedtime and the timer appeared on the screen, I said out loud, “Oh, shit, here we go.” In the light of day, it’s all very silly and conventional. But of course we’re not talking about the light of day.

Sebastián Silva’s The Maid centers on drab, prickly Raquel (Catalina Saavedra), who has worked for a rich Chilean family for 23 years and starts to go loco when they want to bring in another servant to help her out. At its midpoint, the film could go either way: toward The Hand That Rocks the Cradle psychosis or something more hopeful and humanistic. It’s a testament to Saavedra’s tough performance that even with a happy ending, you wouldn’t want to leave her with your kids.

Where the Wild Things Are
Directed by Spike Jonze.
Warner Bros. Pictures. PG.

Paranormal Activity
Directed by Oren Peli.
Paramount Pictures. R.

The Maid
Directed by Sebastián Silva.
Elephant Eye Films. NR.

E-mail: filmcritic@newyorkmag.com.


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