By Scott Knopf | September 13, 2011

How this film was made may actually be more interesting than the film itself.  Armed with absolutely no professional equipment, director Douglas Reese linked up with two non-professional actors to create a “no budget” film and that’s exactly what he made.  Combining a documentary aesthetic with an unconventional narrative, Reese constructs a feature film where others would have settled for an experimental short. 

The film’s two protagonists, played by Jeremiah Hall and Denelle Kjellman, only have a few hobbies.  They spend the entire sixty-nine minutes ingesting pills, cleaning their house (which never ends up looking that clean) and fooling around in the living room.  Unsurprisingly, their roommate isn’t their biggest fan.  And after the third time you watch them change out the Swiffer Sweeper, the fourth time they snort drugs, and what seems like the millionth time they stick their tongues in each other’s mouths, chances are, you won’t be their biggest fans either.  And if you make it to the scene where the female protagonist describes her fantasy of “get[ting] raped by a n****r,” fight the urge to turn off the film.  You wouldn’t want to miss the scene where she stabs a cardboard box to death.

Obviously, a film doesn’t have to feature likable protagonists (or non-grating sound, for that matter) to tell a story.  There is a story to be found in Cleaners.  And there’s an audience for hard-to-watch films.  Unfortunately, the film’s use of copyrighted music (so much Linkin Park) has kept the Cleaners out of film festivals but it’s available online and it has the potential to build a following.  Who knows what will happen to this film but if watching a feature film that’s entirely shot on a camcorder is on your bucket list then this could be the project for you.

This film was submitted for review through our Submission for Review system. If you have a film you’d like us to see, and we aren’t already looking into it on our own, you too can utilize this service.

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  1. Michael Wilson says:

    The moment I realized this film wasn’t another typical wannabe Tarantino student film was when Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” blasted during that climactic long take about 50 minutes in. The boy circles around the cleaning girl like a vulture and then he begins to clean in sync with the beat of the song. Gave me chills. A very depressing and unique film indeed.

  2. David M says:


  3. David Himmel says:

    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!

    P.S. If you were about to shut the film off after the “n****r” line, then you definitely were effected by the film’s tone. It’s unsettling.

  4. Malickian says:

    All this talk about this movie being so disturbing on such disgusting levels and yet I didn’t find it a bit racist or foul. Disturbing it is, but nowhere near the levels of depravity most here seem to make of it. The acting and direction in this film was absolutely stunning from a no-budget amateur standpoint. There was atmosphere and style and a rhythm to the editing and photography (and the “awful sound design”) that give it a very unique and jolting mood. It make me look at other films by this director Douglas Reese and while none of them are as accomplished as this one, his other projects at least show a consitancy in themes and styles that appear throughout that prove he’s not some amateur hack. The guy has talent, and I think the best example of this in Cleaners is the scene at the kitchen table.

  5. kelly says:


  6. Shelly Duncan says:

    I was interested by the premise of how it was made and what the goals were so I looked it up on Youtube and watched the entire thing. I can’t say I completely liked it, but I surely respect the hell out of it for being so disturbing and realistic. And props to the two actors who were both excellent. The leading girl deserves awards like crazy.

  7. Adam says:

    I thought this movie was disturbing and I don’t know what to say other than that it is just completely hard to watch. You would think that the bad sound quality and grimy video quality would turn me off, but instead it was the entire idea behind the movie that unsettled me. These two kids doing drugs and living an existance of emptiness and we are ultimately treated to this terrible final scene of murder that they commit and, in the end, care nothing about? It’s a depressing thing to gather from it all but also quite honest in its bleakness. I can’t understand how Film Threat’s review didn’t bother to mention the acting of the two leads. Even if the movie is as bad as it was to you, not even mentioning how hardcore and natural those two were is quite astonishing. If it weren’t for that final scene to push things over the edge, I would have thought this was home movie footage of two druggies. They were that beleivable.

  8. Mark Bell says:

    Cleaners got 1.5 more stars than Meet The Spartans did, at least here…

  9. I really wish I had made Meet the Spartans.

  10. Jenny says:

    Just watched this by the way and I didn’t think it was so bad. It looks amateur and all but it works in the end. I do not understand the Canadian remark above so I will assume it is trolling. The acting in this was amazing and I cannot believe they were not professionals since they came off as realistic as can be. There are some moments of overkill in the movie but overall I think for no budget this movie did its job quite well. And are you sure you heard the n****r line right? I heard her say that she wanted the brother character to get raped, not herself.

  11. Jenny says:

    Why would you have to be Canadian? Lol.

  12. Paranoid says:

    You have to be Canadian to get this film. Sorry.

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