A love-struck beauty therapist befriends a horrifically scarred ‘cleaning lady’ in Jon Knautz (Girlhouse-2014) scathing feature film that proves that there’s more beneath the surface than one would dare to believe.
The Cleaning Lady is an extension of, Knautz’s 2016 short film of the same name, presenting the creepy tale of a burns victim who becomes obsessed with the woman she works for. The 2016 short is merely the bones whereas the feature is the flesh that it has grown upon; fully developing the dark motivations of the seemingly meek, and at first innocuous cleaning lady. Co-written with Alexis Kendra who starred as the disfigured Shelly in the short but takes on the leading role of Alice in the feature; The Cleaning Lady is a disturbingly twisted look at narcissism wrapped in a mean-spirited, horror package.
The opening moments are not for the faint hearted, especially for all the animal lovers out there. Knautz immediately unveils a sense of grotesqueness that will come into play later in the film, establishing that the audience is in for one hell of a dark movie.
Alice is introduced as an appearance conscious young woman who is deflated by her ongoing affair with a married man, named Michael (Stelio Savante). He makes her grand promises that he can never deliver however Alice remains hooked on their relationship despite seeking some perspective from her support group.
Alice is a flawed and multi-layered character, a testament to Kendra’s writing talents. There is no better actress to play her than the woman who wrote her, providing her with many depths. On the outside she is the ideal beauty standard. “You look like Barbie” exclaims soft spoken Shelly (Rachel Alig) during a significant bonding moment. Unbeknown to Shelly at first, Alice’s scars are hidden within, she is broken by her love for a man she may never completely be with, hence her immaculate appearance is her armour. Alice is somewhat sensitive to Shelly, not once does she pry into her backstory, a move she will come to regret. She skirts around the topic, more preoccupied with plastering makeup on Shelly’s disfigured face rather than completely accepting her for her outer image. It is apparent that Alice is self-absorbed with her own problems which blinds her from seeing the bigger picture, however Kendra writes and plays her in a way that we can draw on some compassion towards her at the same time.
The Cleaning Lady centres on this contrast between the two lead females both physically and within their environments. The film depicts the bright, unblemished apartment juxtaposed with Shelly’s dark, putrescent abode. This is just one example in how the film delivers irony, as while Shelly takes pride in her work she is incapable of maintaining her own surroundings.
Shelly’s scarred appearance is brought to life with astonishing make up effects. In the short she appeared much more grotesque and monstrous. However, the feature version tones down her look slightly, bringing in a human dimension, while retaining a certain strangeness that allows the audience to grow wary of her from the moment she appears on screen.
Knautz delivers a slow yet engaging build up before disturbing revelations unfold, taking the film to the next level. It takes a chick flick style trajectory during the first act but fear not as it doesn’t detract from the horror that awaits. The film is carefully plotted with a satisfying payoff. This is one unlikely friendship that is impeccably written, while challenging female representations in horror in a chillingly brilliant psychological thriller. Knautz has achieved a tremendous feat in developing a ten-minute short into ninety-minute feature and has done his source material complete justice.
The Cleaning Lady is one to watch at Frightfest 2018 when it receives its World Premiere on Friday the 24th August at the Cineworld Main Screens at both 11:30 and 11:55am. In the meantime, check out The Cleaning Lady’s sinister beginnings on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/183940778