VOD Releases: The Cleanse (2018) - Reviewed

“When life gets you down, call the number on your screen . . . .” I remember seeing these infomercials when I was a teenager, offering a lifeline. What I didn’t realize is that the pressures of getting older, taking on more responsibility is daunting. The 42-year old in me is wondering what would have happened if I had dialed one of those numbers. (Probably would have been grounded by my parents for a couple of weeks.)

And, that’s what Bobby Miller’s The Cleanse feels like: a grounding. No, it’s not a punishment of sorts, unless you like to endure pain and suffering to achieve results. To have gotten to this point, it must’ve taken a lot for Paul (Johnny Galecki) to seek help. As it turns out, he responds to a very plain-looking ad.

This leads him to a self-help group where he meets Maggie (Anna Friel). See, Paul got fired and was left on the altar at nearly the same time, so he is suffering from a double whammy. The story establishes early on their relationship with a conversation between a security glass door. The barrier is only strengthened by Maggie’s reveal that she lied during their Q & A just a few moments prior to their discussion.

Also in the introductory meeting are Eric (Kyle Gallner) and Laurie (Diana Bang), a young couple whose relationship is on the rocks. What struck me about this couple was Eric’s boisterousness as he’s sharing his life story, because Laurie is as quiet as a church mouse. There’s a point to that that I’ll circle back to in a moment.

The Q & A served as a screening process for new recruits for a summer camp, in which Dr. Ken Roberts promises his program will cleanse your system. As he’s searching the internet for information, a rat gets trapped. He calls the landlord to exterminate the rat while at the same time he’s taking the call from the institute saying that he’d been accepted into the program. Writer-Director Bobby Miller uses this point in the story to inject one more moment of chaos in Paul’s life before the start of his new journey. But, it’s also serves as a primer of what’s to come.

At camp, we are introduced to Fredericks (Kevin J. O’Conner) whose character reminded me of Ron Carey’s Brophy in High Anxiety; someone who wanted to just be loved, but couldn’t quite find it within himself to do so. We are also introduced to Lily played with a grim gleefulness by Angelica Huston. As the attendees arrive, they are invited to drink four jars of liquids and instructed to not drink someone else’s jars. Paul follows the rules, downing his jars. What it produces is the stuff of nightmares, but this cleanse produces something that Paul never had in his life leading up to this point: responsibility. Remember the rat I mentioned? It’s an integral part to this story.

And I think that’s the crux of The Cleanse. We want so much to be loved, but when we’re faced with responsibilities, we hide until we’re forced to come up to them face-to-face. What’s funny is that even the leader of this cleanse, Ken Roberts (Oliver Platt) makes a staggering statement towards the end of the movie that I was laughing. It’s the ludicrousness of this story that has me believing that the story is possible.

When Paul is asked to sign a waiver and he keys in on a specific word that gives him a moment’s pause, its much like a scene towards the beginning of The Matrix in which our character is offered a choice: a blue pill which will open up an adventure the likes of which he’s never seen and a red pill which will erase any mention of the previous discussion. Bobby Miller’s film doesn’t care which pill you take because you’re in for the adventure of your life.

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-Ben Cahlamer