*TW: Sexual abuse*
I don’t really know where to start. Our newest horror antagonist, Shelly is all at once kind of brilliant, awful and incredibly sympathetic, given her horrific personal history. In fact, both central characters are likeable and it really makes a difference. Twisted road movie sequel anyone?
What I can say for sure right now is that this film made me feel physically sick from the first scene and didn’t let up for its entire 90 minute run-time.
As a means to distract herself from an affair, a love-addicted woman befriends a cleaning lady, badly scarred by burns. She soon learns, these scars run much deeper than the surface.
Alice (Kendra) is having an affair with married man Michael, who won’t leave his wife for his son’s sake (YAWN). Promising big things to his lover is all well and good but Alice is trying to quit him with the help of her “Love Addict” support group.
When she meets badly scarred Shelly (Alig), who does maintenance in her building, Alice hires her to do a little on-the-side cleaning in her apartment. Through this the pair become friends, with beautician Alice offering to teach Shell how to apply make-up and dress prettier.
Shell is subdued to start but is open to the friendship, in fact she soon becomes besotted with lovely Alice. To the point she chloroforms her in her sleep and takes a rubber cast of her face. Honestly, who of us hasn’t been there before (either as the caster or the castee)?
Here it becomes very obvious the cleaning lady isn’t just a sweet loner but someone rather damaged (yah think?) and via the medium of flashback we learn why. It’s a humdinger and very hard to process. Meanwhile Shelly seems to be keeping a rather big secret locked up in an outhouse just outside town. I wonder if any of this is connected?
Alice is honest with her new pal about her love struggles but Shelly isn’t happy to learn her perfect friend isn’t quite so perfect after all. But she’s willing to help her change – which will require a certain amount of sacrifice on Alice’s part. It’s a bad day to be cheating worm, I’m guessing.
At the same time, Michael’s wife is beyond suspicious of his creeping around and starts following him which might be the worst idea she’s ever had.
What’s Shelly’s end game though and what does she want/need from Alice once she’s truly perfect?
I came away from this with mixed feelings but actually it’s not bad. For a low budget horror, it’s pretty solid and the two main women are really good. I bought them both and honestly, I like that this film doesn’t frame Alice as a bitch, just because she’s having an affair. We’re allowed to like her, even understand her feelings and sympathise with her when she cocks up.
At one point Michael’s wife is on the phone to a girlfriend, swearing to kill the woman he’s been banging. Off screen, we hear the friend tell her to remember its not about the woman and that’s totally fair. Alice genuinely loves her boyfriend but also wants to move on. You can’t help feel for her.
Shelly, on the other hand, has been systemically abused by her evil mother from a young age and there’s no way to forgive that. She’s peddled out to paying clients while mum bakes cupcakes and enjoys not having to work at the local plant. Following an act of rebellion, Shelly gains the severe facial scars she now lives with. If only her trauma had ended there.
The only thing that really fucks this up is its ending, which could have done with just a little more something. It’s not a bad idea, it just feels tacked on and maybe could have done with ten more minutes to pad it out, which I never say.
I also would have liked just a little bit more examination of the beauty ideal because it felt the film was trying to say something there too. Shelly (almost) literally steals her new friend’s face and admires herself wearing it in the mirror but this is never really seen through, which is a shame.
Nevertheless, The Cleaning Lady is a grimy little indie banger that could have been better but could of been waaay worse.