Review: The Cleaners makes a mess of its intriguing subject

Doc about workers who scour social-media sites for objectionable images that might violate a site’s terms of service gets a superficial treatment

THE CLEANERS (Hans Block, Moritz Riesewieck). 88 minutes. Some subtitles. Opens Friday (June 22). See listing. Rating: NN

In a cubicle farm in Manila, contractors spend hours and hours scouring social-media sites for objectionable images, determining whether or not they violate a given site’s terms of service. The Cleaners sits down with these people and examines what this job does to a person.

Or at least that’s the pitch. In practice, Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck’s film is a frustratingly superficial treatment of its subject, failing to really push into the questions it raises and unwilling (or unable) to show us any of the images with which these content moderators struggle.

There’s also a weird blind spot about the religious culture of the Philippines – one of the moderators defines the job as looking for and eliminating “sin,” and The Cleaners just lets it hang there without going any further.

Still, if you want a movie that’s mostly made up of screens glowing with unspoken menace, The Cleaners is definitely that.

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