The Cleanse is a horror comedy film that was written and directed by Bobby Miller, releasing in 2018. It stars Johnny Galecki as Paul Berger, a man who’s deeply depressed after being stood up at the altar by his fiancé and then losing his job. Paul attends a selection seminar for “Let’s Get Pure”, a secretive self-help program created by Ken Roberts. At the selection meeting, Paul takes an interest in fellow applicant Maggie Jameson. Paul is selected for the program’s purification retreat. He is hesitant to sign a liability waiver that mentions the possibility of death, but agrees to participate after learning that Maggie was also selected.
Paul is escorted by car to the retreat’s secluded woodland location. There, he meets Fredericks, who has been participating in the program for several weeks. Paul and Maggie also learn that two other applicants, Eric and his girlfriend Laurie, were selected to join the retreat.
Lily conducts the program. Each of the new participants is given four personally-formulated cleanse drinks that they are to consume before the end of the first day. Because of their horrible taste, Laurie is unable to finish her fourth drink while everyone else completes the first stage of cleansing. Paul gets sick during the night and throws up in the sink. The next day, a small creature emerges from the sink’s drainpipe. The creature grows as time goes by. Paul nurtures his creature, realizing it is a physical manifestation of the negativity he purged from his system.
Maggie tries to leave the camp when she first confronts her creature, but Lily convinces her to stay. Eric spends time with his creature while Laurie is bedridden with an illness from having not completed her cleanse. Paul discovers Fredericks in battle with his creature, which has grown into a more monstrous form……
The Cleanse feels more like a short rather than a fully-fledged film. Firstly, it only has a runtime of 81 minutes including credits. Secondly, almost everything within the film desperately needs to be expanded upon. There isn’t one singular aspect that I can say is explained particularly well. The narrative involving a saddened individual joining a cult that clearly has ulterior motives has been done time and time again. Also, all of the characters could use further development with the vast majority of them feeling like pointless inclusions.
The concept surrounding the creatures being a manifestation of a person’s inner turmoil is a good idea. There’s a lot that could be done with that and the creatures. In fact, the genre that the film is in allows for plenty of penitential hijinks. Unfortunately, the film just sticks to the bare minimum. I know, this is most likely due to budgetary reasons but it’s still disappointing. At least the little creatures do look really good. They are mostly a practical effect and I always appreciate the effort.
Additionally, regardless of the lacklustre material, the acting throughout is strong. Also, the ending is abrupt and pretty bad. Nothing feels resolved and the deeper message needed further explanation so it fails in that regard as well.
The Cleanse is in no way a terrible film but it ends up mediocre at best when it could have been so much more.
The Final Score - 5/10