An incredibly chilling and beautifully crafted film, The Cleaning Lady is a story of a lonely woman finding companionship; the disfigured title character acting as a way for Alice to deal with her difficulties. As their relationship develops, however, a tragic truth is revealed and the film turns from a rather sweet tale to something quite terrifying.
Boasting a quiet, spine-tingling performance from Rachel Alig in the tragic titular role, this film is an exploration of love and trust in the most horrifying way. Alexis Kendra, who also co-wrote The Cleaning Lady alongside director Jon Knautz, gives an impressive performance herself as a love addict who needs to learn to trust herself. It is the relationship between the two that is the most intense aspect of the film.
Shelly, the cleaning lady, appears to simply be a shy, harmless person who tries to help people as best she can and the scenes towards the beginning where the two’s relationship is starting out make the film feel rather heartwarming. Shelly’s severe facial burns are an obvious yet undiscussed element of the story until she herself brings them up. After this, when we start to slowly learn how Shelly was burned, is when The Cleaning Lady really starts to ramp up its intensity until the terrifying final act.
The film’s subplot of Alice’s affair with Michael (Stelio Savante) plays a key role in some of the film’s more intense scenes and appears to act as a reason that Shelly turns as horrific as she does. Certainly, there are plenty of creepy moments, shots, music cues and lighting in The Cleaning Lady to put a smile on the face of any fan of this kind of horror, and it isn’t long before we start to realise exactly how twisted Shelly’s mind is.
Knautz beautifully works in scenes of her heartbreaking backstory which not only work to explore how damaged an unloved child can become but also gives us an understanding of why her character is as she is. Just because we may understand her mentality, however, does not mean that we agree with what she does.
The effects of Shelly’s burns, as well as some of the surprisingly brutal violence, should also be greatly applauded. From a technical standpoint, the film is just as strong as its story and its performances, and it all moulds together to create a truly wonderful piece.
Originally made as a short in 2016, The Cleaning Lady screened first on Grimmfest 2018’s final day and is certainly one of the most deeply chilling films of the festival. Rachel Alig certainly gives one of the most memorable and strongest performances in any film screened with her ability to go from monotone and almost ethereal to utterly savage and revenge-fuelled.
Letting someone into your life is always a difficult thing; letting the wrong person in can be devastating. This film tells you to trust your own mind and that’s a message that easily sticks with you. Consider The Cleaning Lady a truly wonderful and highly recommended film!