THE MASTER CLEANSE (2016)


Dallas International Film Festival 2016

master cleanse Greetings again from the darkness. Sometimes, it’s just difficult to know how to describe or discuss a movie. This happens more frequently at film festivals where the most creative and risky films often find their only audience. This first feature film from writer/director Bobby Miller isn’t really a comedy – though there are some uneasy laughs; and it isn’t really a horror film – though isolated cabins in the woods and creepy little creatures give the impression that it could go that way.

Johnny Galecki (“The Big Bang Theory”) stars as Paul, a down-on-his-luck nice guy who hasn’t recovered emotionally from being dumped at the altar by his fiancé. One night he’s dozing on the sofa when a TV ad captures his attention … it’s a spiritual retreat for the downtrodden!  The timing couldn’t be better.

He’s joined at the isolated retreat by struggling actress Maggie (Anna Friel), a young couple, Eric (Kyle Gallner) and Lily (Diana Bang) working through relationship issues, and a quasi-caretaker and holdover client played by Kevin J O’Connor. The on-site leader is played in full-bellow mode by the great Angelica Huston.

Day one is the juice cleanse, and the participants have to force down a disgusting concoction designed to “eliminate” … the step preceding “termination”. Elimination is pretty easy to figure out, as our new friends expel from both ends (fortunately this is mostly implied, not shown).  While that part might be expected, the surprise comes in the form of the eliminated creatures unique to each of our players … little critters representing the emotional baggage we all carry inside.

In the midst of misery, the retreaters are told that the movement (no pun intended) leader (Oliver Platt) will be arriving soon. He’s kind of a cult-like figure without the expected pretentiousness. In fact, he’s a pretty nice guy that seems to really care. Of course, that would be a pretty boring story, so plenty of things go awry during the process.

“Let’s Get Pure” is the name for the retreat, and the idea of physically removing our negative energy and emotional baggage does make some sense. Director Miller seems to blend the worlds of early David Cronenberg and Gremlins to deliver an odd little film that could develop a cult following of its own. It’s a serious message conveyed in a not so serious way. Galecki and Friel do a nice job of keeping us grounded and giving us some peeps to pull for.  Just watch that final step … termination can be brutal.

 

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