Review by Lauryn Angel
Wouldn’t it be great if you could manage to purge all the negativity in your body? Not just toxins, but insecurities, depression, and anxiety as well? This is the premise behind Bobby Miller’s The Master Cleanse.
Paul Berger (Johnny Galecki) has recently lost his job and fiancée, and is feeling a little unmoored. He spends a lot of time at home, eating candy bars and doing internet searches like “Does psychiatry work?” before passing out on the sofa in front of the tv. One night he wakes up just in time to see a commercial for a completely free retreat that promises happiness. Of course he decides to check it out; he really has nothing to lose. After undergoing a strange selection process, Paul and three other people – Maggie (Anna Friel), Eric (Kyle Gallner) and Laurie (Diana Bang) – are selected for the process and travel to a secluded camp, where they are greeted by Fredericks (Kevin J. O’Connor), whose cure is already in progress. Fredericks and Lily (Anjelica Huston) work for Ken Roberts (Oliver Platt) – the creator of the cure who is much-mentioned, but remains unseen until the third act.
Paul enthusiastically begins his cleanse, which involves drinking four murky beverages, blended specially for each participant, and reading Roberts’ book. Paul also attempts to get to know Maggie better, as he is attracted to her, but Maggie remains detached and aloof. Eric and Laurie are on the retreat because Laurie insists it will better their relationship, but it quickly becomes apparent that Laurie is the weakest link in the group.
The cleanse has phases with ominous names like “Elimination” and “Termination,” and the absence of the guru seems ominous, but it’s not until the evening of the first night that things get weird. Really weird. And kind-of gross. There’s lots of vomiting and diarrhea (most of which happens off screen) and pipes that seep a nasty-looking ooze. And then there are the creatures that emerge, which are simultaneously repellant and adorable.
Miller lists Terry Gilliam, David Cronenberg, and the Joel and Ethan Coen as inspirations, and it’s easy to see their influence on this film – particularly Cronenberg’s. While the movie is at times horrific and gross, there is quite a bit of humor as well. The film treats its characters with dignity – even Ken Roberts, when he finally shows up, seems genuinely interested in helping Paul and Maggie. The film comes to a satisfying conclusion. The Master Cleanse is a quiet, quirky film that relies mostly on character development, but it’s well-crafted from the animatronics of the puppets to the performances of the actors. It’s not likely to be a blockbuster, but it should do well with fans of off-beat independent films.