(Written by Allison Brown)
Clean, directed by Lachlan Mcleod, is a singular look into the niche industry of trauma cleaning services, as well as a deep dive into the life of its most notable success story, Sandra Pankhurst. Sandra defines trauma as “an incident that happens out of the blue;” her service covers cleaning up crime scenes after a death, hoarding, squalor, deceased estates, mold, fire remediation, meth lab cleanups, industrial accidents, and regularly assisting disabled or mentally incapacitated people who cannot care for their own surroundings.
Pankhurst, the founder of STC in Frankston, Melbourne, has had a hard life. She was abused and left to live outside like an animal, discarded and returned as an adopted child at the ripe age of seven, and eventually turned to prostitution as a young adult. Somewhere in between, Pankhurst was married, divorced citing homosexuality (and as a result banned from seeing her children as it was believed to be contagious), and finally found her place in the world transitioning to a woman. This inherent distress gives Sandra a unique sense of sympathy when approaching each new case and client.
It appears that those employed with STC work not only as cleaners, but in some respect, as a type of therapist for their clients. I can only imagine the mental impact these employees must feel from this job every day, but somehow all her employees interviewed are so optimistic, cheerful, non-judgmental, and love to help others.
I found the scenes where the clients were interviewed very difficult to watch. This truly does expose the reality of the career’s circumstances. In one clean-up, there are needles piled at every corner, and the workers are essentially risking their lives. Safety seems to be the most important factor in taking on the role, as Sandra herself suffered from lacking the necessary knowledge. She now has COPD, “a lung condition that restricts airflow and damages organs,” all from not wearing the proper PPE, and she has been forced to step down from attending the cleans. However, she still holds the job in high regard, and surprisingly doesn’t seem angry at all given her circumstances. Sandra has really been through so much in her life, and has somehow come out the other side.
Mcleod really puts things into perspective with the graphic scenes and uncensored visuals. I personally have struggled a bit with hoarding disorder, so seeing the most extreme cases envisaged was terrifying. Clean is a successful documentary that I can see finding a streaming home on Discovery+ for all the true crime afficionados.
Clean takes out the trash when it premieres at the 2022 South by Southwest Film Festival on Saturday, March 12th!