The master cleanse is a cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs fad diet wherein some idiot eats nothing and drinks only a “juice” made from water, lemon, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper and actually believes that their body is benefiting. Instead of, you know, being completely nutritionally deprived.
In the movie The Master Cleanse, the inventor, Ken Roberts, has pledged to take this purification further – let’s not just detoxify our bodies, but also our souls. And like all high end products and really good, safe ideas, it’s advertised on late-night infomercials.
Who is up late at night with only a bowl of Cheetos for company, that awful orange dust thickly coating his remote, trolling the airwaves for a quick fix for his spiritual malaise? None other than down-on-his-luck Paul (Johnny Galecki), recently (though not THAT recently) dumped and unemployed, living one functioning toilet above squalor. While the promise of a free retreat from a disembodied voice on our televisions might raise a red flag for most of us, Paul diligently irons his only suit to make the best impression.
A small group, including struggling actress Maggie (Anna Friel), and a squabbling young couple, are taken out to a remote wooded area. Bombastic Lily (Anjelica Huston) is their fearless leader, and bids them to drink special juice formulated just for them. That juice leads them to the crucial elimination phase, where all of their hurt, disappointment and trauma are physically eliminated…and that emotional baggage just happens to look like a cute little creature.
The dark woods, the derelict cabins, the mysterious cult leader Ken (Oliver Platt)…director Bobby Miller has all the trappings of a horror, and indeed you’ve unconsciously braced yourself for something terrible for quite some time. At a special screening at Fantasia Film Festival, Miller said that at first wallowing in sadness is cute – that Ben & Jerry’s, sweat pants phase. But if left unchecked, your emotional baggage just grows and grows, and threatens to overwhelm. Miller’s film gets pretty serious about those consequences. This is body horror with a pulsing conscience.
There is no mathematical way in which any equation involving both toilets and horror should add up to something enjoyable, at least for me, but this did. Miller’s got some magic slipped in there somewhere, perhaps in his confidence even as a first time director in sticking with character and theme while being quite conservative in the gross-out department. It’s a lot more melancholic than you’d expect, even sympathetic, but the message is clear: shortcuts to happiness can leave you literally lost in the woods.