24th Aug2018

Frightfest 2018: ‘The Cleaning Lady’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Alexis Kendra, Stelio Savante, Rachel Alig, Elizabeth Sandy, Mykayla Sohn, JoAnne McGrath, Keri Marrone | Written by Jon Knautz, Alexis Kendra | Directed by Jon Knautz

cleaning-lady-poster

Based on the 2016 short of the same name (also written and directed by Jon Knautz), The Cleaning Lady follows a floundering love addict who forms a dangerous bond with her new domestic while trying to avoid her married lover. As Alice struggles to end her affair with a married man, she finds solace in Shelly, a reclusive burn victim who cleans Alice’s apartment. As their friendship grows, so does Shelly’s twisted obsession with Alice. When Shelly learns of Alice’s on-and-off affair, she takes matters into her own hands in order to cleanse Alice of her bad behavior.

Jon Knautz is, for me, one of the most fascinating writer/directors working in horror today. Knautz’s work often times feels like a love letter to films and genres he loves. Exploding on the scene with the fanboy-ish Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer, Knautz has since steadily explored a myriad of facets of what we call horror… His Jack Brooks follow-up, The Shrine was a gothic horror that was equal parts The Evil Dead and Blood on Satans Claw; 2014′s Girl House was a female-led, girl powered slasher movie that subverted the usual cliches of the genre whilst conforming to its trappings; and Goddess of Love – which screened at Frightfest in 2015 to great acclaim – walked a fine line between erotic thriller and psychological horror as it dealt with one woman’s descent into madness.

And The Cleaning Lady is no different, it too feels like a love letter to what has come before…

Re-teaming with his Goddess of Love star and co-writer Alexis Kendra, Knautz here once again explores the 90s tropes of the psychological “crazy lady” thriller. A genre which blew up in the 90s, first in the DTV market – coming out of the erotic thriller genre and the likes of Body Chemistry and Night Eyes – and then on the big screen in the wake of films like Basic Instinct and Single White Female.

However what’s interesting about The Cleaning Lady is how its protagonists differ from the usual stereotypes of said genre. The backstory for Shelly makes the titular character more sympathetic than your typical movie “villain” and, honestly, Shelley isn’t really THAT villainous. She instead has more pious motivations, even if said motivations are fueled by a somewhat of a sadistic streak. Meanwhile Alice is a very complex character. Whilst the audience should feel unsympathetic for the affair-having, marriage-wrecking character, we instead find ourselves rooting for her – after all her motivations are driven by addiction, and she seems very sorry for what she has done… Yet still she goes back to her married lover, even in the wake of trying to beat her “addiction.” Ultimately it’s Alice’s lack of control and poor decision-making that leads to her downfall.

Can you really call it a downfall though if it’s at the hands of a lunatic? That’s the macabre question The Cleaning Lady explores… Just how much of this is Alice’s fault and how much is Shelly’s. Had Alice given up her married man as easily as she gave up her other vices, would Shelly have continued down the same path with her? Or was Shelly always going to end up imposing her will on Alice in the same way, even if Alice was “perfect” to begin with?

Knautz’s film is also very much an exploration of nature vs. nuture. Insomuch as Alice and Shelly have very different backgrounds yet both are deeply flawed characters and both are seeking companionship. if in VERY different ways; their upbringing and their experiences effecting how the both go about the same quest to find someone. Alice finds solace in a married man, Shelly finds solace in… well to tell you that would spoil the The Cleaning Lady‘s denouement. Suffice to say Knautz and Kendra lay clues throughout the film that, come the its conclusion and that final scene, truly reveal the motivations and the reasoning behind Shelly’s behaviour.

**** 4/5

The Cleaning Lady screened at Arrow Video Frightfest 2018 on August 24th.

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