The Cleaning Lady Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by 101 Films
Directed by Jon Knautz
Written by Jon Knautz and Alexis Kendra
2018, 90 minutes, Not Yet Rated
UK Frightfest premiere on 24th August 2018
Alexis Kendra as Alice
Stelio Savante as Michael
Rachel Alig as Shelly
Elizabeth Sandy as Helen
In an attempt to go cold-turkey on her married lover, an adultress befriends her apartment building’s cleaning lady. A shy, disfigured tragic figure with a horrific past, cleaning lady Shelly seems to be glad of a friend. The pair bond over chick flicks, make-up and coffee, and gradually Alice begins to forget about the ex. But the timid exterior belies a medicine cabinet full of chloroform and anesthetic syringes, and a temper not to be reckoned with. It’s Single White Female meets Audition. Hey, at least you know there's not going to be a mess left all over the apartment afterwards.
Jon Knautz's modern stalker take on Eyes Without a Face is an unsettling, chilly slow-burn in which its simple story unfolds with horrifying inevitability. Its characters are purposefully unknowable, deceptive cyphers, only the Cleaning Lady extended any sort of credible sympathy, even as she commits terrible acts of violence upon those who get in her way. Beautician Alice may be the story’s lead, but it’s nominal at best, and without agency. She doesn’t even get to speak for almost half of the movie.
It’s the sheer unpleasantness of The Cleaning Lady that sets this film apart from its straight-to-TV roots, Shelly playing out like a European/French Extremist horror villain dropped in the midst of a Lifestyle Channel movie. The film’s cinematography adds to this feeling, its crisp, clean, overly lit look sitting ill at ease with its antagonist and her behaviour. It’s awash with such discrepancies, everything and everybody ever so slightly off-kilter, adding to the permeating sense of unease.
Cliché is still cliché though, and The Cleaning Lady is awash with that too. Many might have hoped that modern horror had left the Disfigured Villain stereotype behind, but she’s here in full force for this one, a film which does no favours to burn victims and those with facial disfigurements. Horror certainly doesn’t need to be uplifting or politically correct, but this is stereotype without purpose, not really bothering to say anything meaningful or interesting about its antagonist or her state of mind. It smacks of laziness rather than true transgression. Horrifying in its inevitability the story may be, but that means there are few surprises here, and those less enamoured with the characters will find little to love.
The Cleaning Lady plays like an American remake of a better movie, toned down in spite of its effective violence, spiteful meanness and horrifying themes. In spite of the things it does very well, this is just one script polish or two away from greatness.
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