Review: A Psychosexual Thriller With A Twisted Villain, THE CLEANING LADY Shouldn't Be Swept Aside
Jon Knautz has been on the horror scene since the early 2000’s, finding some success with indie projects such as the well reviewed Still Life and the oft overlooked but always beloved Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer. His love for the genre is apparent, he wears it on his sleeve, and perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects of his body of works is how eclectic it is. He bounces around from niche to niche and with The Cleaning Lady, Knautz explores something that feels like a slasher on the outside but at it’s core is a psychosexual thriller with some truly dark undercurrents.
Alice is addicted to love. Not sex, necessarily, but to that feeling of feeling wanted. She’s been having an affair with a married man and is finally hoping to kick the habit. She ends up leaning on her apartments cleaning lady, a badly scarred recluse named Shelly, to try to aid her in the constant backslide into her addiction. Unfortunately for Alice, Shelly has some scars that are more than skin deep.
The Cleaning Lady plays with a lot of different messages and tones and although it doesn’t precisely nail them all, it does do a great job at exploring some areas that often glossed over. For instance, the addiction Alice shuffles could have easily leaned into the sexual, Alexis Kendra (who also co-wrote the film) is a stunning lead that we could have seen exploited, but instead it swerves in the opposite direction and really does show that Alice is not looking for just carnal pleasure, she’s addicted to that feeling of being wanted. Something that we as an audience can connect with at a very basic level. It allows us to relate with Alice as she makes decisions that we would otherwise perhaps question the validity of. Knautz guides the story like a maestro, giving us glimpses into both Alice and Shelly’s lives that keep us hooked.
Shelly has a tragic backstory that becomes harder and harder to swallow as the curtain is pulled back. By the time her past and present narrative meet, her actions are not condoned but understood, Knautz doing his job at creating a sympathetic villain. Rachel Alig carries the bulk of the movie on her back, relying on her introspective nature to let our guard down that makes it all the more vicious when she unleashes. Shelly becomes a character that you’re never particularly rooting for but the motive is clear.
While The Cleaning Lady does do a genuinely good job at exploring some of the darker and seedier ideas of human sexuality and perversion, it does so intermittently and thus the pacing becomes an issue. While their is plenty to like in the movie, even at an hour and a half it seems as though it’s dragging on. While laying down the narrative for both characters is central, many elements of it seemed like filler, such as scenes with Alice’s fellow addict or the shoehorning of her lover’s family into the plot. The violence is well done and brutal, it hits hard, but those hits mostly fall into the third act. A huge shout out must be given to Hailee Jones and Kelton Ching, the makeup effects artists. Any of the violence is incredibly visceral and Shelly’s burn makeup is so good that it honestly sets a ton for the movie that will end up being the current most people ride through.
The Cleaning Lady presents itself as a slasher, touches on a lot of areas, and never quite figures out its tone. However, because of great effects and strong performances from Alig and Kendra, it’s one of the most interesting sexually charged thrillers of the last few years, with just enough violence and weirdness to keep the horror heads locked in. It’s available now on DVD and VoD from RLJE.