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Cleaners (2011) Review over 1 year ago
Before anybody starts to question whether I’m a friend of Douglas Reese or not, I will just lay out there that I have spoken with the guy before and being called a casual acquaintance would be acceptable. While I don’t personally know the guy I can admit that I previously spoke with him on the Internet Movie Database message boards and that’s how I saw the majority of the non-budget films he’s made but I have never really spoken to him to such a degree where my opinions on his work would be biased. I have watched almost all of Reese’s shorts and three of his features and while he has sparks of trademarks and quirks that re-appear throughout his work he has made some pretty awful things. In particular, he’s at his worst when he’s obviously trying to please the big crowds. When he first posted his Cleaners movie over on IMDB he was savagely attacked by the responses. Nobody over there really gave it a chance as they slammed it for having messy editing, grainy cinematography, and jarring sound. My guess is that they did not want to give it a chance because of what they saw as technical shortcomings or they didn’t watch the whole film. I watched the entire thing and I was a bit confused by what I had watched to be frank. The movie was very depressing and was drenched in dark atmosphere but I couldn’t find love in it. I responded to him and told him what I thought and patiently waited for his next film to be shared. When he posted a new film called Snake and I watched it [not a very good one] I started to notice things about Reese’s directing and the way he edits. From films before and after Cleaners he has done he showed competent, “normal” editing skill so why was it that Cleaners felt like it was so messy? And when I watched it again I realized that the terrible editing was really some brilliant film editing.
Cleaners starts off with two kids making out and we can barely here what they’re saying because there is an intense sound of fans going off in the background. Eventually we hear the girl say that they are going to “kill Douglas” and before we know it the film’s title shows up and we hear an annoying guitar riff beat to our eardrums. We then see a shot of a freezer full of clothing and garbage and a loud environment of fans, heavy metal, and a television show beating even harder on our eardrums. You think that at first its just all terrible sound editing but realize as the film goes on that the sounds and the actually cuts in the film are all very consistent and natural. We see that cut from that freezer to the lead female character [Denelle Kjellman] rushing into the kitchen for a Swiffer mop and once she leaves the room Reese lingers on the kitchen table longer than he should before cutting away to the bathroom where the girl is now seen intensely mopping the floor. Throughout this scene we get random cuts and the sound never continues on in these cuts. They are always jarring and sudden and never feel like they have a flow. We eventually cut into a living room and watch as the lead male character [Jeremiah Hall] scrubs around a television set. The terrible music blares like nails on a chalkboard. Whenever the scene cuts the music never continues on it cuts with it. And then Reese goes back to the girl now in the hallway with the mop as she brushes it across the floor. And then Reese once again replays the same entire shot and the only first thing that would pop into the viewer’s head is how awful that piece of editing was. The trick to realizing that it’s not awful editing is to analyze all of it after having seen the entire movie.
When Reese is asked what Cleaners is about he always tells them that its about dominance. On the surface you could call him crazy since the film is basically 80% cleaning and snorting drugs but the movie really is about dominance. And in order to get that you have to look closely at how he edits and photographs scenes or the way he stages or frames the two characters. There are multiple scenes in which the characters are presented in reflections or in mirrors. Interestingly, when the female character is shown, most of the time there’s a crack in the mirror that fractures her face into two pieces. It almost feels similar to the way Reese is editing the film in a way and makes sense in context to the dominance theme.
Throughout the movie the speeding drug using teens clean and clean this apartment and the apartment almost never seems to be getting any less dirty. And there are random moments throughout where this girl begins to yell at her boyfriend and you can tell he is very bothered by it. But she’ll kiss him and then he’ll feel hypnotized by her. The moment of arguing is completely forgotten about as they begin to obsessively clean some more and the jarring editing between such moments really helps design that mentality the film has. There’s a pattern in how they clean, argue, makeout, snort drugs, clean some more, argue again, makeout and be happy again, snort some more drugs. And the way Reese edits these scenes together is almost unbearable and the way the two lead actors play their parts so realistically only makes it all harder to watch. There’s a documentary feel to all of this and that comes with the way its made.
Watch how many times paintings on the walls of the house mirror the shots Reese is framing. How many times reflections are taken into account. How many times cards are shown. How dust is framed in a shot. I think about one shot where the boy is cleaning near the ceiling and we can see dust covering the fan in the bathroom. Throughout the film fans are heard blaring in the background and seem to represent the high of the characters. Whenever the sounds of the fans start to go away and the fans stop blowing they snort more drugs and the sounds once again come back loudly. So it makes sense that the fans kind of stand as metaphors for their drug state so when we see dust in a fan hovering above the boy’s head we kind of understand what the dust everywhere else in the apartment means too. And when the girl stands on the toilet and cleans out the dust from the fan and in a later scene draws and stabs a heart on a cardboard box for a fan it’s obvious what the fans represent. A pretty huge metaphor in the movie and it all connects to the editing and framing of shots. Pay attention to the fans and how they visually appear and how there sounds play in effect.
The editing in the movie is fast and abrupt and quick but there are a few moments where Reese doesn’t cut away for extensive periods of time. The first scene like this is a scene where the boy sings a terrible song to the girl for her entertainment. It’s one of the ‘happy’ moments in the movie but still very depressing but a bit beautiful because of that. The next one is longer and lasts nearly three minutes where the two sit at the kitchen table and play a card game. Fans are blaring and we cannot hear what they’re saying but we can feel through the body language what’s happening. She’s tearing him down and dominating him. Look how Reese framed the actors and then look at the painting above them on the wall. Reese’s quote here on MUBI couldn’t be closer to the truth. Body language is what he aims for and what these two say to one another doesn’t really mean beep He then does another jarring cut to the two in the bedroom as she kisses on him and once again makes him forget about it all. They clean again.
The next scene he does linger with is also nearly three minutes and it focuses on the two in the same room cleaning the living room while Pink Floyd blares on the television. They sweep and swipe and sweep and swipe and the scene never cuts but just lingers back and forth between the two and then looks down at the floor. A pile of dust sits there and it keeps collecting up more and more and Pink Floyd on the soundtrack says ‘we don’t need no thought control’ . Makes sense for the next scene to be the girl proposing the idea to the boy to kill his older brother for practically no reason. Instead of responding morally because murder is wrong, the boy instead says he doesn’t think they should do it because they’d get caught. But eventually he is convinced and they go into his bedroom while he is sleeping and stab him to death.
The music in the movie is very informative as well and the characters are both seen wearing clothing that advertises the kind of crappy rock bands that they listen to. Insane Clown Posse, for example, on the girl’s shirt labeling her a ‘psycho bitch’. Which also makes sense in context with the scene where the boy calls her a ‘bitch’ and then the next scene shows his older brother calling her a ‘psycho’. The girl is crazy. But the girl isn’t over the top or cartoonish because Denelle Kjellman gives a very excellent performance that is very disturbing. In fact both leads are freakishly great and help further the movie in many ways.
The last scene is the most brilliant as they shower and we can tell through their acting that the murder doesn’t bother her but really scars him. He no longer wants to lock lips with her after he spent the entire film being controlled by that spell. In the bedroom, he lays his head on her stomach and she softly asks him ‘do you want to fix us up some lines so we can clean our mess’ and then he looks directly into the camera. This is the second time the fourth wall has been broken in Cleaners. The first time was the girl character before she snorted one of her lines as she gives a very disturbing smile to the camera as if telling us that there’s nothing we can do to help or stop her and it is disturbing as hell to watch. Can you believe this actress is only 13?
Cleaners is very thought-provoking and very artistic and very hard to watch but when you watch it all the way through and pay attention to the things Reese does in it you can see how intentional and powerful the filmmaking is here. It all comes together and it is all jarring and fucks with the head of the viewer and its some really hardcore stuff that can even be considered socially relevant with some thought. Reese made this movie with absolutely no money and if its possible for him to do this film with that much raw power with that little I cannot wait to see what he could do with some cash in his pocket. Cleaners hit me harder than most movies in 2011 did and that says something since my favorite that year was a Terrence Malick masterpiece.
Shamelessly advertising for Reese I couldn’t care less since I think more should see this!