A Hispanic housemaid working in the Hamptons discovers just how expendable she can be in Michael Walker's new film, "The Maid's Room," which opens Friday at Manhattan's Cinema Village and is available on video-on-demand. Though not yet slated to play local theaters, "The Maid's Room" is the latest movie to explore the dark side of wealth and privilege on Long Island.
In fact, it's the fourth film to do so in the past two years. In 2012, Leonardo DiCaprio starred in "The Great Gatsby," an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's tragic novel about a North Shore millionaire. DiCaprio also played the Long Island-based financial criminal Jordan Belfort in the 2013 biopic "The Wolf of Wall Street." Earlier this year, Great Neck filmmaker Kevin Asch used his hometown as the backdrop for his teen version of the Gatsby story, "Affluenza."
Walker, a Manhattan-based filmmaker, says he didn't set out to make a "message" movie but a Hitchcockian thriller. "The Maid's Room" stars Paula Garcés as Drina, a maid who, while working for the Crawfords (Annabella Sciorra and Bill Camp), begins to suspect their teenage son, Brandon (Philip Ettinger), may have killed someone while driving drunk.
Walker initially set the story in Los Angeles, where he briefly lived, but after spending 12 years in Bellport, he began considering the Hamptons as a backdrop. "It's a unique place where people have a lot of money," he says.
It was in 2008, when a white teenager, Jeffrey Conroy, fatally stabbed Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue, that Walker began thinking about "The Maid's Room" in a more topical context. Anti-immigrant sentiment on Long Island, he recalls, went from "the rhetoric of politicians to the dinner-table conversations to kids picking up this hatred," he says. "That seemed like the culmination of that."
Garcés, a New York City-based actress, says the character of Drina -- initially so optimistic and grateful for her work -- reminded her of her own grandmother, who left Colombia in 1965 and worked as a maid in Manhattan. The movie "really touched on some issues that resonate with Latinos," she says. "It seemed like a story that's been repeated in my family over and over again."
Walker shot "The Maid's Room" (his third film, after 2000's "Chasing Sleep" and 2012's "Price Check") for roughly $600,000 and filmed much of it in a large Bellport house owned by the Grucci family. The movie held its world premiere at last year's Hamptons International Film Festival.
"I never wanted the film to be a message kind of film, but it was a way to talk about the power structure, how powerless immigrants are and how they get dehumanized," Walker says. "I think it works in a thriller situation. I like the idea of putting social commentary into a genre movie."