THE CLEANING LADY *** USA 2018 Dir: Jon Knautz 90 mins
Canadian director Jon Knautz, co-writing here with star Alexis Kendra, has carved a prolific genre career with a diverse range of flicks from his engaging feature debut JACK BROOKS: MONSTER SLAYER to the surprisingly thoughtful GIRLHOUSE.
The title and set-up of THE CLEANING LADY channels the 1990’s Hollywood thriller cycle of middle-class peril, in which attractive, financially comfortable people earn the unwelcome attention of a psychologically damaged outsider who cleverly inveigles his / her way into their home and / or relationships. An injection of sadism, signalled by an opening image of a rat in a blender, positions the film somewhere between THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE and Miike’s AUDITION. Kendra is very good as a beautician and “love addict”, increasingly frustrated by her affair with a married man, and offering a wage to the disfigured cleaning lady (Rachel Alig) she hires to spruce up her homestead. She shows kindness in the only way she can think of (a makeover) but in the process feeds the vulnerable young woman’s need for companionship. In the spirit of 21st century ordeal horror, Knautz unravels an appropriately grim story for Alig’s sad antagonist and attempts to parallel her miserable existence with the entrapment Kendra faces in her relationship. The narrative follows an entirely expected trajectory as it reduces its initially sympathetic outsider to the level of just another unrepentant female monster, subjecting the One Character Most Likely To Be Tortured to an extended bout of Hydrochloric Acid-based torment. The decision to play key secondary characters too broadly – notably JoAnne McGrath as Alig’s exploitative mother – also takes the edge off a well-made, sometimes startling film that too easily slides into routine territory.
Review by Steven West