Starring Johnny Galecki, Anna Friel, Oliver Platt, Kevin J. O’Connor
Written by Bobby Miller
Directed by Bobby Miller
Writer/director Bobby Miller first came to my attention with his 2010 short film Tub, which followed a man who impregnates his bathtub after masturbating while taking a shower. Quirky but emotional, it cemented Bobby Miller as a name that I needed to keep an eye out for. The Cleanse marks his feature length debut and it’s a wonderfully quirky tale of acknowledging our past and learning to let go.
Paul (Galecki) is a heartbroken man who can’t seem to get his life on track after losing his job and being stood up at the altar. On late night TV, he sees an ad for a spiritual retreat that promises to help those who participate. One of four people who make the cut for the retreat, Paul and the others each drink four jars of some strange liquid that is made just for them. At the end, each vomits profusely and gives “birth” to an odd creature that grows over the course of the retreat. As things become more outlandish, Paul and Maggie (Friel) have to figure out how they are going to get out of this bizarre situation.
Featuring elements of black comedy, surreal fantasy, and straight up creature horror, The Cleanse is one of the more original films I’ve seen this year. After all, how often do we get to see a man take care of a creature, a manifestation of his inner negativity, born of his own vomit? Were it not for the wonderful creature FX by Nicholas Podbrey and Werner Pretorius – these creatures really are disgustingly adorable – I don’t know if this film would work as well as it does.
Bolstered by wonderful acting from everyone involved, The Cleanse clocks in at a tight 80 minutes and has a witty, strikingly funny first act, an uneven second act that retreads ground already established, and a third act that ends abruptly, almost shockingly so, although it certainly brings the goods for those who are craving a creature design that hearkens to Carpenter’s The Thing. The combination of these three acts ends up with a film that, even though it’s relatively short, feels like it would actually do better as an extended short film, one that lasts about 45 or so minutes.
While the acting is certainly delightful across the board, some of the characters feel underdeveloped and strangely unnecessary, such as Eric (Kyle Gallner) and his girlfriend Laurie (Diana Bang), whose purpose is to introduce some immaturity and resentment, respectively. If they are meant to show what happens when you don’t go along with the program, then I feel like there could’ve been a less hit-you-on-the-head way of doing so.
A tale about holding onto the past and only being able to let it go once you recognize that it has the ability to hurt others, especially those who you might see a future with, The Cleanse is unflinchingly honest, even though it knows that it might hurt. Couple that raw candor with some smart humor and fantastic creature designs and you’ve got yourself a film that’s well worth seeking out.
The Cleanse puts characters in a difficult situation that we can all empathize with: when are we ready to let go of our past, no matter how much we rely on it or, just as importantly, it relies upon us? Charming and engaging, but certainly rocky in terms of pacing and unsure how to handle all of its characters, it blends horror, comedy, romance, and emotion into an original film that will have you wanting more from Miller.