From its opening moments where we watch a trapped rat get pureed to pulpy, gooey bits in a blender, it’s clear that co-writer/director Jon Knautz is not messing around with his latest feature, The Cleaning Lady, which recently enjoyed its world premiere in the UK as part of this year’s FrightFest festivities. An expanded take on his short film of the same name, Knautz consistently defies expectations with his often brutal and unforgettable tale of two very different women on a collision course that will forever change their lives in unimaginable ways. Plus, having the film’s star, Alexis Kendra, as a co-writer and a driving creative force on The Cleaning Lady truly makes all the difference here, too.
The Cleaning Lady is centered on Alice (Kendra), who has been trying to cut a couple of vices out of her life, including smoking and her married lover, Michael (Stelio Savante), but is failing miserably at both. Something of a perfectionist, on the surface Alice seems like a woman who has it all, from a stunning apartment, a booming career as a personal aesthetician, a gorgeous profile, and a wardrobe that almost matches her radiance. It looks like Alice has everything a young woman could possibly want, but her inability to detach herself from a bad romantic relationship indicates that there are a few cracks in the façade of Alice’s “perfect” life. One day, she befriends her building’s cleaning lady, Shelly (Rachel Alig), a meek, unassuming woman who hides her horribly scarred visage underneath her wisps of straggly hair and a baseball cap.
Alice takes Shelly under her wing with promises of movie nights, gal pal dinners, and makeovers, but the closer the two women get, we begin to see Shelly’s own issues coming to a head, and as her obsession with Alice grows, pushing her down a disturbing path that will leave both women in a brutal fight for survival. And if that gives off some Single White Female vibes, you best think again, because Knautz and Kendra’s script sidesteps audience expectations by interjecting the narrative with a few compelling twists that cleverly mix up the formula and deliver a disturbing portrait about the strains that society puts on women of all walks of life. To say anything more on the matter would be a huge disservice to their efforts in The Cleaning Lady.
On a visual level, Knautz leans into a poppy color palette for Alice filled with blues and yellows (representing life and light) that beautifully contrasts against the dark and dreary basement that Shelly currently calls home, as well as the red-hued world she grew up in that we are introduced to in a few disturbing flashbacks that provide some insights into what has driven this young woman to a depraved lifestyle. The stark juxtaposition of these two characters’ lives remind us of the differences between Alice and Shelly, but in the end, we see just how similar they both are in ways you may not be expecting. That’s precisely the type of movie Knautz has delivered time and time again over the years, proving that he’s one of the genre’s most interesting filmmakers working today.
Movie Score: 4/5