Opening with live rats being tossed into a blender set to frappe, The Cleaning Lady immediately caught my attention… especially when I realized that this concoction was someone’s actual meal. Cue dry heaving and explosive vomiting. Though gore hounds craving an abundance of blood will find little to quench their thirst after this gruesome scene, this indie feature still holds a commendable creep factor difficult to achieve. With Hollywood churning out a plethora of remakes, reboots and sequels, this feature offers a fresh, original story sure to satisfy any horror fan’s craving for something new.
Plagued by guilt stemming from her entangled love affair with a married man, Alice (Alexis Kendra: Hatchet II 2010) has been searching for ways to free herself from her love addiction. When support group meetings just aren’t cutting it, she distracts herself by diving into a friendship with her apartment building’s maintenance worker, Shelly (Rachel Alig: At Granny’s House 2015 – read our review here), whom she hires to clean. Quiet, shy and disfigured by burns, Shelly becomes Alice’s pet project for distraction. However, when a deadly obsession develops, Alice discovers some scars run far deeper than what’s seen on the surface.
Co-written and produced by the film’s lead, Kendra, with Jon Knautz (Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer 2007) directing and Jim Nelson (read our interview with him here) executively producing, The Cleaning Lady takes you through a tale of a twisted, toxic friendship resulting in a shocking, climactic ending that unravels into disarray. Backed by outstanding performances from Kendra and Alig in their respective roles, this imaginative story blends empathy, disdain, sympathy and understanding for the characters in unexpected ways.
On the surface, Alice and Shelly are polar opposites. However, it becomes obvious that the two women have more in common than first suspected. Both are painfully human, exhibiting imperfections as they fight their own internal struggles. While Alice attempts to resist her current love affair, Shelly’s past is revealed to be incredibly dark, and quite frankly, fucked up beyond belief.
Thankfully, the flashbacks into Shelly’s past don’t go into too much graphic detail, but the power of suggestion is strong. Mykayla Sohn (House of Darkness 2016, The Chosen 2017) gives an impressive, brave performance as a young Shelly, making the sickening scenario that much more effective. Matching Sohn’s fearlessness is JoAnne McGrath’s (My Crazy Sex TV series) sinister portrayal of Shelly’s soulless mother, Colleen. By taking this layered character approach, which isn’t seen often enough in today’s horror, The Cleaning Lady plays with your sense of justice while blurring the lines between right and wrong.
Although the slow burn pacing, after the liquefied rats, could have been quicker for a more intense buildup, there are few complaints to be had about The Cleaning Lady. With a carefully crafted story plot and characters that irradiate creeps seasoned with some shrills, it is easy to see why the film earned an award for best film and another for best script. Exploring over attachments in frightening ways, Kendra and Knautz have crafted one solid horror film capturing disturbing appeal in more ways than one. It is available June 4th on VOD, Digital HD and DVD.