Starring Alexis Kendra, Rachel Alig, Mykola Sohn, Stelio Savante
Written by Alexis Kendra, Jon Knautz
Directed by Jon Knautz
While recent films like Greta and this weekend’s release, Ma, show how unlikely friendships can have promising beginnings and then turn ugly, Jon Knautz’s The Cleaning Lady proves once and for all that we’re all probably better off alone. An intimate story of two damaged women finding solace in each other, star and screenwriter Alexis Kendra shows how, sometimes, what makes us human and vulnerable leads to ruin. If you’re a natural empath, you still may invite a scarred young woman into your apartment after seeing this movie but, please, make sure to get rid of all the plastic wrap in your home before you do.
A self-proclaimed love addict, Alice (Kendra) needs constant attention to feel important but suddenly finds herself alone and in need of someone to distract her from a recent love affair gone sour. Whether the person she encounters intends to ensnare Alice or not, she finds herself opening up to the maintenance woman in her building – a badly burned invert named Shelly (Alig) in need of some warmth and affection herself. As the two of them begin an awkward friendship, Shelly’s tortured past is revealed through flashbacks featuring an abusive mother with horrible taste in men. The closer Shelly gets with Alice, the more she wants to burn off any excess people in her life. This leads up to a dark fate including the aforementioned Saran Wrap, a butcher knife from the Michael Myers Collection, and a healthy pouring of hydrochloric acid.
At first, there’s almost a Pygmalion quality to Alice and Shelly’s relationship, especially during a makeover scene where the two of them bond in that innocent, slumber party kind of way. It’s endearing, making the eventual dive into Shelly’s madness a little sadder…until she just starts straight up torturing people. Speaking of makeup, the subtle burn work here on adult Shelly and young Shelly (Sohn) by artists Jules Keppel, Hailee Jones, and Kelton Ching is effective, unsettling and definitely worthy of a mention.
In fact, Shelly’s character look is the most memorable thing about the film, unfortunately, as the production’s low budget doesn’t afford the freedom for more elaborate scenes that could have provided some much-needed energy. For this level of filmmaking, there are some standout moments here including a dark conclusion where we get a glimpse into Shelly’s dollhouse mind stuck in a twisted state of arrested development. But it’s just not enough to provide enough of a spark to elevate the film to a really satisfying exploration of what happens when new friendships move from a place of trust to an apartment of terror. The title The Cleaning Lady itself feels a little antiseptic; the movie, as a result, seems a little bland, too.
Be careful who you let inside.