Jon Knautz returns to the horror genre with a film which, in my opinion surpasses his previous efforts in almost every aspect. ‘The Cleaning Lady’, co-written by Alexis Kendra (who also stars as leading lady Alice), is a hard hitting descent from its desperate housewife’s style openings to a full-blown ‘torture-porn’/ slasher style conclusion.
The story follows two characters, Alice and Shelly. Alice is a ‘love addict’, a woman trapped by her own compulsions in a toxic affair with a well-off married man. Despite her efforts, including attendance to self-help groups, she cannot pull herself away from a relationship which she knows is going no-where. One evening, desperate to break off an inevitable sexual liaison with her lover (that’s a booty call to you and I), she invites her cleaning lady Shelly (Rachel Alig) to stay for dinner. Shelly is a socially awkward, disfigured young lady with a back-story so horrific that’s makes the visible facial burns seem insignificant. Unbeknownst to Alice, her (not entirely self-less) gesture catalyses an intense obsession which spirals quickly beyond her control.
For much of the first hour almost all our time is spent with the two main ladies. Their relationship is awkward, not helped by neither lady having a spotless personality. Out of the two, Alice is by far the most ‘normal’ but between her adultery and her own lack of self-control she is difficult to route for, despite her playing the inevitable victim in the film. Shelly is obviously damaged, but going against genre-convention, her character is played in a quite reserved manner. I rate Alig from her other movies, and in this she plays her part to a tee. The only other excursions from the present-day predicaments are the flashback snippets of Shelly’s quite horrific back story. I won’t ruin this element for you, but honestly, imagine the worst possible childhood experiences you would attribute to a horror antagonist and double it! It’s vile!
Beyond the hour mark, well I wont ruin it for you, but things steer into much more familiar genre territory and whilst I won’t say its ‘enjoyable’, it’s well worth the wait.
The acting is solid, and the script, save for a few lines here and there is well polished. You can feel the film building in tension and atmosphere as the plot progresses. It’s a slow start, and I would say, for a gent like myself I did feel the female angst/issues element of it a bit difficult to connect with. I was struggling to invest in the issue of Alice and her woe is me story – which seemed a bit first-world-problem. That said, I loved Shelly’s creepy demeanour.
Her sinister actions which begin off-beat, but inoffensive, turn full on psycho by the film’s final third! Her antics reminded me of that antics of the stalker in a similar film titled ‘Sleep Tight’ by one of my favourite directors Jaume Balagueró. As I have said, the horror parts of the film in the first two acts are subtle, creepy but escalating. It is a film you need to invest in, and some of the more extreme topics covered intermittently throughout the movie are quite hard to rationalise in your mind, especially as surrounding such scenes the film seems to be masquerading as a soap-opera.
As time ticked on I was hoping that the climax would justify the interesting, but slow-paced build-up.
One thing is for certain, this film is certainly one of two halves in terms of it violent content (well more 60:30 split to be chronologically precise, but that ain’t the saying!). The build-up, however, was worth it. The ending is a true show stopper! The final half an hour is a ripper and I loved every minute of it. The onscreen violence is graphic, the conclusion to Shelly’s back story adds even greater depth and dynamics to her already intriguing character, and Alice’s story concludes which is so far detached to her self-pitying beginnings I could even blame her poor decision making for what befalls her. Again, I don’t want to ruin anything for you, just be assured, if you like brutal and hard-hitting horror, this will more than scratch that itch. Given the context to some of the violence, I found it tough to watch.
That’s important. For a film which requires you to invest in character and story, to try to get to grips with routing and pitying characters for whom there is no clear morals, Knautz brought his A-game this time round and hit a home run.
Overall, whilst horror fans will not see this style of obsession-based horror story particularly original, I am struggling to think of a better example released recently. If you are wanting a horror which comes without the usual bump-in-the-night jolts, but in return test the limits of your constitution by witness some truly horrifying, real life (ish) scenarios exaggerated for your viewing ‘pleasure’ then the ‘Cleaning Lady’ is just the ticket.