There are all manner of diets and detoxes out there designed to supposedly flush your system of whatever it is that keeps you a fat lazy, bum. Most, if not all, are fads that just end up disappointing people. In his debut film, Bobby Miller tells the story of one that works. If you can handle it.
The Master Cleanse is a very simple, small film with a central premise that isn’t fully revealed until the very last shot, which makes it very difficult to summarize without spoiling anything. The film focuses on Johnny Galecki’s Paul, a shy sad sack who is still reeling from a bad breakup. One day he answers an ad inviting people to try out for a spot on a spiritual retreat run by Oliver Platt’s Ken Roberts (with help from an astounding Anjelica Huston).
Paul and three others eventually find themselves in some cabins out in the woods, participating in a detox that requires they drink four mason jars of some foul liquid. From this concoction rises… barf. But from that rises cute little creatures that require care and love. Things progress from there.
Johnny Galecki may be the star of the movie according to its cast list, but these little creatures are the real draw here. Heartbreakingly adorable (at first) and made with glorious practical effects, these small, sluggish baby things really draw your attention and take your interest in these characters to the next level. There’s also a significant amount of mystery pulling at your attention. What are these things? What will they become? What does this have to do with spiritual betterment?
The questions that matter get answered. Miller wisely ignores the ones that do not, though there aren't many. The Master Cleanse’s primary joy is its brevity. In 80 minutes, the film introduces a compelling, and very strange, scenario, explores it to its satisfying conclusion, and then just ends. There are no superfluous scenes, and it’s a pleasure from beginning to end.
We’re seeing more and more movies (particularly in the indie horror world) with blatant usage of metaphor to comment on very real things. I don’t think this is a bad thing at all. It’s fun to dig deep into a difficult movie and find thematic gold, but it’s also nice to have it all right there in front of you. The Master Cleanse, while more dark comedy than horror, functions in this way and finds incredible success. Hopefully this is one you’ll be hearing more about in the future.