By Dr Chris Reynolds

The Cleaning Lady takes its cue from a number of films built around the prospect of an interloper gradually worming their way into the protagonist’s life and then disrupting it. Usually the protagonist is living a cosy middle-class existence and the protagonist is someone who seems initially charming and attractive before eventually unveiling their inner psycho. This sub-genre of film was big in the 90s with famous entries including Single White Female, Fatal Attraction and reaching its apex at the end of decade with Audition.

Director Jon Knautz previously impressed with the fan-pleasing Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer, the underrated The Shrine and the semi-successful Goddess of Love, whose star, Alexis Kendra, he again collaborates with here. Knautz brings a confident hand to the direction, but despite having the construction of what should be a solid thriller, it does feel flat and weaker than his other films. Part of the problem is that it’s so reminiscent of other films key films in the genre – Single White Female in particular, and there’s a striking image which is lifted straight out of Audition – so the film is consistently unsurprising, but, like the eponymous Cleaning Lady herself, I think the scars go deeper to harm the themes and it’s the one unusual thing the film does that gives a disconcerting feel to aspects of the film.

Look at the villains in the other entries in this subgenre: Jennifer Jason Leigh in Single White Female, Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, Eihi Shiina in Audition. Maybe add in others like Rebecca De Mornay in The Hand That Rocks The Cradle or ‎Jenny Seagrove‎ in The Guardian. They’re all conventionally attractive and at the beginnings of their films they all seemed well-adjusted, friendly and desirable. In all cases there were reasons for the victims to want these people in their lives. By contrast, The Cleaning Lady makes almost no attempt to disguise the fact that the titular cleaning lady, Shelley (Rachel Alig under heavy burn-scar makeup), is sinister, untrustworthy and mentally damaged. The movie stretches belief in its initial leap of why Alexis Kendra’s heroine, Alice, would insist that this woman, already in full time employment, should be her cleaning lady, and then again as Alice tries to be her BFF, all while Shelley shuffles around, mumbling and producing dead rats despite Alice never having known her house to have a vermin problem. But there’s a nastier subtext in there as well, implying that a beautiful woman is making a mistake by placing her trust in a someone who is disfigured. The most obvious reading being that Shelley’s unattractiveness is a key trigger for her jealousy, manipulation and torture of Alice.

Leaving aside the murky attitudes of the movie, I think there are glimpses of what could have been a more effective film, with occasional good handling of scenes of tension and suspense, but this seems like a misstep for the director and star.

Arrow Video Frightfest Review: The Cleaning Lady
2.0Overall Score
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