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FrightFest 2018 Review: The Cleaning Lady

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Poster-TheCleaningLadyIn director Jon Knautz‘s The Cleaning Lady the lonely Alice (Alexis Kendra) befriends Shelly (Rachel Alig), a woman scarred by burns. The two develop a friendship where they are both equally saving the other from very different types of pain.

At first I was worried that this film’s story would be too predictable; the scarred lady will get too close to the pretty blonde, developing an obsessive relationship that leaves one of them dead. I was only partly correct. Instead of falling down an entirely expected rabbit hole, The Cleaning Lady only toys with the idea. There is a lack of surprise in the story which is a little disappointing, but learning about Shelly’s back-story in neat exposition does offer a few moments of intrigue.

Both the leading ladies are complex and interesting, mainly steering away from cliches associated with female characters. Sure, it’s a little under-whelming to see a woman sick with love and another hindered with supposed imperfections – women do care about more than just their romantic relationships and their beauty, you know? – but perhaps this film’s grounding in horror can be transferred to more than just its jump scares. There is a certain horror in the sadness of these women that perhaps urges us to remember that, as women (and men, of course), we can find happiness outside of these stereotypical preconceptions of joy.

The similarities and differences between Alice and Shelly feel a little cliché – they’re both broken, scarred and tormented – but, Kendra and Alig’s performances feel real. The friendship becomes touching, the conversations between the two feel sweet and credible, which is enough to generate the desired empathy from us, the audience. There are times where it feels shallow, but there is certainly a worthy sentiment below the superficiality.

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Of course, these moments of friendship only feel like warning signs, because this is a horror film, so the happiness can only last so long.

The Cleaning Lady has one heck of a nauseating opening scene, so it’s a shame when you realise that nothing in the main body of the film can live up to this immediately icky beginning. Except maybe when you realise where it’s going… OK, I’ve said to much. It does feel like much of the film is spent waiting for something to happen and, even though it’s a meagre 90 minutes long, there are times when it feels a lot longer.

The film feels like a horror fairytale, where a twinkling soundtrack works well against the foreboding visuals to enhance a clash between the dark and the light, good and evil. There are no scenes of real terror – although, Shelly’s childhood is filled with a generous helping of its own, twisted horror – but, The Cleaning Lady‘s own obsession with jealousy, envy, abuse, toxic attachments and the idea of being saved, do offer an element of thematic horror.

The Cleaning Lady is a decent, almost all-women-led semi-slasher – which is quite the mouthful, but you get what I mean. It’s creepy and strange, led by a couple of great actresses, so add it to your never-ending watch lists.

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CinemaKiller Chords

Review: It Comes at Night

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It Comes at Night is a work of taut, paranoiac angst, agonizingly tearing open an unsettling fissure at the heart of modern societal fears, as it explores the limits of humanity through the collision of empathy against the darkest survival instincts of the nuclear family.

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CinemaReviews

Review: THE BELKO EXPERIMENT

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When an isolated corporate building is mysteriously put under lock-down, a sinister voice on the intercom announces that the employees must kill each other or be killed themselves. The Belko Experiment is Battle Royale in an office block and it’s an absolutely and unabashedly brilliant, bloody time.

The concept alone is immediately appealing, especially for those of us that spend our 9-5s in an office, praying for something exciting to happen. Anything. But, what if that something meant killing your co-workers and fighting an impossible fight for survival where there can only be one winner? I’ll pass. After watching The Belko Experiment’s bold and twisted social experiment you may find yourself strangely relieved that your day was a little bit boring.

The Belko Experiment is a riot for genre fans and those like their horror relentlessly violent and gory. Expect creative kills and murder galore as the characters are whittled down from a few hundred to very few during the film’s modest 89 minute run time. The deaths are captured in frequent glorious slow-motion to a soundtrack that escalates the intensity, but injects The Belko Experiment with a generous dose of fun to remind us that this isn’t really to be taken seriously.

The technical and visual flair of The Belko Experiment is a welcome surprise, with brightly coloured lighting dousing the film in a hyper-real glaze to emphasise the film’s concern with the excessive and the extreme. As with a desire to show as many office-related kills as possible, The Belko Experiment wants its audience to have a good time more than anything. Much like director Greg McLean‘s darkly comic killer Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) from Wolf Creek  who walks the thin line between the horrific and the hilarious, there is a playfulness and a clear intention to be both funny and frightening at The Belko Experiment’s core. This ensures that film’s social commentary shines consistently bright, but never outweighs Belko’s drive to have a good time.

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Stripping away the film’s superficial outer layer that sees it painted as an exploitative bombardment of death and dismay, and there is fairly obvious but necessary exploration of moral issues and the difficulty of being faced with this office Battle Royale. The Belko Experiment can be read as an anti-corporation tale where the top dogs at the peak of the office food chain easily take charge, attempt to make the rules and demand everyone follows suit. Aside from the obvious villains on the other side of the intercom, it is the corporation’s most powerful that are painted most negatively. However, their representation is far from simple and I challenge anyone who doesn’t almost side with their attempt to “fairly” decide who should be killed first.

The Belko Experiments proves that an all-star cast doesn’t have to be saved for a cheesy rom-com or an A-lister action flick, with the recognisable faces of John Gallagher Jr, Michael Rooker, Melonie Diaz, Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley and co., making the film all the more unpredictable and shamelessly exciting. It’s easy fun watching the cast wreak havoc, desperately trying to stay alive, but all-the-while battling their own inner moral issues. Sure, some of them find the killing easier than the rest, but no one’s hands are free from blood in Belko.

Managing to balance humour, horror and necessary moral concerns, The Belko Experiment is smart, slick and furiously entertaining, benefiting from the strong cast that make it effortlessly enjoyable.

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