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Movie Review

The Cleaner

Directed by Michelle Fatale (2007)
Reviewed by MaT, added on Sep 25 2007

Rarely does an indie film impress me on any level. Usually what happens is that the amateur technical aspects overshadow the story/ideas/plot etc. Another reason so many indie films fail is that they take a 30 minute story and expand it to feature length. So it's always a pleasant surprise to see a film that is not only quality on a technical level, but also has a tight, non-filler story. Which brings me to The Cleaner, a film directed by Michelle Fatale from our friends over at Chopping Block Films (In the interest of full disclosure, they also reviewed our film). How does The Cleaner stack up? Is this a great example of indie filmmaking or does it need to be doused in Drano? Read on...

The Cleaner is the story of a young woman named Grace who has obsessive compulsive disorder. Germs freak her out and she must constantly wash her hands, clothes, and body to get clean. Her relationship with her husband is on the rocks because she won't have sex with him and she's gotta deal with a sleazy coworker who won't stop hitting on her. Even worse, she just found out that she was pregnant but had a miscarriage that went awry, therefore the doctors need to "clean" her uterus to remove the fetus. Things reach a breaking point when she comes home to find her husband banging his mistress and from that point on, "cleaning" becomes more than just a household chore...

I was really surprised by the quality of this film. It runs about 20 minutes and is engaging from the get go. The acting, usually the downfall for so many indie films, is well above average all the way around. Kristin Burke, who plays Grace, is awesome in the role. I found her really sympathetic and though she didn't totally nail the psycho scenes, she had a great presence and I found myself rooting for her from the get go. She has a very likable quality about her and she really gives The Cleaner the backbone necessary to elevate it above the usual low budget quagmire.

I also really dug the story. Since this is a short film, there isn't a need to get into deep character development for periphery characters such as Grace's boyfriend. We get the impression that this dude is a total jerk, and that helps define our sympathetic feelings towards Grace, causing us to enjoy the eventual punishment served out to the "dirty" people around her. The film smartly focuses on Grace, highlighting her incessant need to have to wash herself. And at only 20 minutes, the lack of filler material really helps the film's watchability. The other thing I thought was really good was Michelle Fatale's direction. The shots are framed great, there's some surprising tracking shots thrown in for good measure, and most importantly, Fatale lets the characters move the story along. You aren't going to find annoying obtrusive camerawork that brings attention to itself in this flick, which is a breath of fresh air in my opinion. Often with indie films, you'll get a director who wants to show off as much flash and knowledge of Adobe as they can, relegating the film to the background. Fatale wisely makes the camera a spectator rather than a participant. Good stuff

If there are any criticisms to be leveled at The Cleaner it's that it doesn't go far enough in its attempt to really show the suckiness of obsessive compulsive disorder. Though Grace takes plenty of showers and washes her hands a lot, I never got the feeling that the character was all that upset by her problem. Her husband definitely was, but since the film focuses on Grace, I would have liked to have seen more insight into how her character deals and copes with the emotional aspects of OCD. One other thing is the final confrontation between Grace and her husband and his mistress. I couldn't help but get the feeling that I really wanted to see more and I really wanted to see Grace go bonkers. Grace is a bit too reserved, in my opinion, and I think it would have been great to shake up the character's disposition with a bit more menace.

But overall, The Cleaner is an awesome short film. Fatale has delivered an engaging and entertaining horror flick that has a wonderful performance by Kristin Burke. Check it out if you get the chance.

8 / 10

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