The Master Cleanse
Starring Johny Galecki, Anna Friel, Anjelica Huston, Oliver Platt
People look for all kinds of ways to heal their grief and disappointments in life. In this film, Paul (Galecki) is grieving deep down over the loss of his fiancé, although not really dealing with it. Finally, some advertisement for a “Master Cleanse” (“Let’s get pure” is its message) gets his attention, and he ambivalently responds. Participants have to “try out” to get invited to a retreat by talking into a video camera about their troubles. The “master”, Ken Roberts (Platt), looks at these and decides who will be admitted into the program. (Of course, most will.)
Paul has his eye on a young woman named Maggie (Friel), an actress who has told a bitter story about what happened to her. She rebuffs his approaches offering sympathy, but on the first day at the retreat (in a beautiful setting in the woods), there she is, although still rather standoffish. They also encounter another young couple who were also at the same audition.
This very first day, rather strange things start happening. Tellingly, the film is categorized as being in the genres of comedy, drama, fantasy, and horror—and that is part of the problem with it. Writer/director Bobby Miller has tried to incorporate all of these, giving it a scattered feel. It’s a bit confusing for the viewer at times because it’s not clear whether certain moments are supposed to be funny, scary, or dramatic.
Galecki carries his lead role very well, showing the different layers of his personality and weaknesses.
For example, as suggested by the title, the participants are given four foul-tasting drinks they are to finish before nightfall. Of course, this involves vomit and poop—which filmmakers now seem to think are inevitably funny. When odd things happen in the plumbing thereafter, we get a taste (awful pun) of horror. There is also one tragic dramatic scene, which is not set up very well nor the couple involved really described in a way that pulls at our emotions.
The film is a bit strange as well in the way it has elements of psychological truths, such as those having to do with the emotional drain of holding onto problems rather than changing oneself. These problems can grow larger if the person continues to repress them. The film illustrates these in a very concrete way, which is likewise part comedy, part truth, and part horror. This approach doesn’t quite fit with the spoof on trendy counseling, such as the Huston character suddenly appearing out of the woods yelling at the top of her voice (which is supposed to be a catharsis).
Galecki carries his lead role very well, showing the different layers of his personality and weaknesses. Friel and he have good rapport when they finally start bonding, and it is clever to see the the results of their cleansing bearing resemblances to their personalities. Anjelica Huston and Oliver Platt are wonderful as caricatures of trendy therapeutic gurus.
A therapeutic retreat to cleanse the body and soul produces some odd creatures.