Doing Someone Else’s Dirty Work is Part of the Job Description in Cleaning Redville
During my time working night shifts at a hotel, and getting up at a ridiculous hour to set up a pub for the day (different jobs and times I might add. The gig economy wasn’t quite so prevalent then), the lowly call of the garbage truck served as an alarm of sorts. The changing of the guard from night to day. The heavy thrum of engines and the banging of plastic bins like an improvised cuckoo clock parade that passes by in much the same way.
I’d often wonder about what strange discoveries they’d find on their dawn brigade, especially after a weekend of leery bachelor parties and the volatile football crowds have had their wicked way with the town. I know what I’d found in the industrial bins out the back of these establishments in the aftermath of such things, and yes, people really will dump anything in there.
Cleaning Redville, a game jam by DopplerGhost, takes those wandering thoughts and gives them a natural horror spin. Better yet, it keeps things relatively restrained and doesn’t stray from its methodical pace for the twenty or so minutes it takes to finish.
We don the overalls of a garbage man (by trade, not reputation) on a solo shift in the quiet small town of Redville. It’s a remote place, with just a few streets to go through and pick up the trash left out for you. It really is eerily quiet as you reach the first street. It’s almost as if the place is in a kind of stasis while you go around collecting sacks of rubbish and loading them into the crunchy jaws of the truck’s compactor. Absurd magic is in the air as a result, casting you as a strange mirror of Santa Claus. The one who rides in on Boxing Day and cleans up all the shite left over from present unwrapping and fancy dinners.
Things are pretty routine to start with. You drive the garbage truck along the road, spot some bins and trash bags, then stop and get out to retrieve them. Collecting the required amount and compacting them unblocks the road ahead, ready to repeat the cycle anew. There’s a cathartic quality to pulling the lever on the compactor. The routine keeps the mind from wandering into the weeds where it starts to question what lurks behind the windows of this ghostly town.
Little things seem off. Things that can at least be rationalized, but the still of the early hours lends even the most innocuous noise or movement a supernatural quality. In fact, the one jump scare in the whole of Cleaning Redville is built on that, and it’s commendable that it isn’t followed by the obvious double-tap.
There’s an escalation of sorts. Nothing especially graphic, just clearer signs of this town’s sinister history. Letters pinned to telegraph poles hint at the suspicious nature of your growing cargo, and the sickly glow of the garbage truck’s cabin becomes increasingly comforting as a traveling safe room. Cleaning Redville’s restraint creates a refreshing uncertainty. The emptiness of the desolate-looking town and the muddy murk of the night sky is like an ocean to you. A seemingly vast nothingness that certainly is occupied by life, but the location and nature of it is a disturbing unknown. The anticipation of something dreadful looming out of the dark is a powerful force to harness, and Cleaning Redville has a strong hand on the reins.
This isn’t a complex story. You will likely see where Cleaning Redville’s narrative path is leading you long before you’ve pressed your last shiny black refuse sack into mush, but it’s in the conclusion where DopplerGhost makes a surprising turn that is still in keeping with the tone and pace presented before it. You finally finish your run through the town and are now tasked with driving away. Surely that’ll be the job done, right? Once again there’s a sense of dreadful anticipation as you travel the dark roads out of Redville. The whole experience has been building to something, and there’s the slightest tinge of disappointment in the air because there’s such a clear and obvious payoff to Cleaning Redville that would ruin what came before.
It’s not DopplerGhost’s fault I expected that, of course, there’s a natural cynicism about the structure of short indie horror experiences. So many set off the spooky fireworks to finish the show, and look, there are only so many times you can ooh and ahh at the sounds and colors before it feels a bit hollow. It does, however, make the actual conclusion of Cleaning Redville a delight by subverting that expectation. It’s also proof you can keep things pleasingly familiar without being too familiar.
As the last bit of refuse is loaded into the garbage truck’s ever-hungry maw, I thought back to my initial musing on what strange and repulsive things rubbish collectors might find on their journey’s through the gloom of a dawning day. Now a new invasive thought had grown alongside it. What strange and repulsive things could they be hiding in there?