The Cleanse Review (Film, 2018) #31DaysofHorror
Some of the simplest sources for a horror film are different or twisted perspectives on common occurrences. Gremlins is ultimately a film about bringing home a pet as a gift for a loved one. The Conjuring is about the fear of the monster hiding in the closet. The Shining is about anxiety from staying in a hotel far away from home. Little things we take for granted can be terrifying with the right perspective.
The Cleanse is a horror comedy about cleanses. You know, the health trend where you severely restrict what you can or cannot consume to clear your body of toxins and come out a healthier person. Paul finds an ad on TV for a cleanse retreat featuring the newest innovations by lemon cleanse creator Ken Roberts. He winds up in the middle of the woods with three other cleansers and simple instructions: drink four bottles of your custom made cleanse by the end of the first day, don’t have any outside food or drink, don’t drink someone else’s cleanse, and only consume the provided vegetable broth for the rest of your stay. The cleanse is the real deal, releasing a literal monster of your own creation from your body as part of your detox elimination.
That monster design is the major reason to watch The Cleanse. These wide eyed creatures who squeak, cry, and chitter for love and attention from their creators are adorable. They are easily the cutest monsters in a horror film since the Mogwai of Gremlins. The living byproducts of the cleanse have a real sense of weight and believable life to them, thick skinned larva with tiny little hands that take on the bad habits and nervous tics of their creators. The creatures are proof that animatronics and puppetry can still feel modern, fresh, and real in a cinematic world obsessed with CGI everything.
There’s really not that much depth to The Cleanse and that’s not a bad thing in a horror comedy. A gathering of wacky characters wind up in a bizarre, almost nightmarish, scenario where they are suddenly parenting creatures they created during a process meant to free them of inhibitions and make them better people. The creatures are introduced early enough to play a significant role in the film but not so early that you realize right away what they actually stand for or their ultimate purpose in the story.
The cast really sells the silly concept. Johnny Galecki is a sympathetic hero as Paul, a man whose life is spiraling out of control through a series of unrelated events. His fiance left him, his job laid him off, and he can’t make a meaningful connection in the world. Anna Friel, as Maggie, is one of his fellow cleansers, a distant actor in the waning years of her career who is willing to do anything to be selected for the cleanse. Kyle Gallner and Diana Bang have a solid arc as a couple going on a cleanse to save their relationship. He’s an alcoholic who doesn’t really listen and she’s too willing to sacrifice for the sake of the relationship.
Oliver Platt is a convincingly sympathetic figure as cleanse designer Ken Roberts, offering the perfect blend of believable guru and threatening presence when it comes to following the rules. Anjelica Huston steals the show as Lily, the woman running the cleanse program in the woods. She sells the amalgamation of all the “alternative medicine is better” devotees. You just don’t know what to expect from the older woman in flowing clothes who enters the film by screaming as loud as she can in the woods for a solid minute.
Writer/director Bobby Miller crafts a tight and clever horror film. There is no extra padding in The Cleanse. Every scene has its purpose and the whole story is told in a satisfying way in a tight one hour, ten minutes. The total runtime is ten minutes longer thanks to the ending credits. Frankly, I wish more horror films showed this level of restraint in the editing room. There aren’t extra scenes here just to make The Cleanse a more commercial friendly 90 minutes or more. Everything that makes the final cut serves the film. It’s not the scariest or funniest horror comedy ever made, but it succeeds in being a tight and engaging creature-driven story with a relatable setup.
The Cleanse is currently streaming on Hulu Plus.
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