The horror comedy-drama “The Cleanse” is one short, strange trip. Although it may evoke such films as “Gremlins” and “The Lobster,” as well as David Cronenberg’s earlier work, writer-director Bobby Miller’s oozy, eerie, yet weirdly soulful yarn feels like an original.
“The Big Bang Theory’s” Johnny Galecki is spot-on as Paul, an earnest underdog who lands at a woodsy self-help refuge whose motto, “Let’s Get Pure,” doesn’t exactly spell out what’s in store for those looking for a little life boost.
Also keeping it vague is the retreat’s inscrutable director (Anjelica Huston, having fun), who plies Paul and his fellow visitors — anxious ex-actress Maggie (Anna Friel) and a mismatched couple (Kyle Gallner, Diana Bang) seeking relationship repair — with beakers of foul juice mixes to activate their body “cleanse.”
These tailor-made concoctions cause major bouts of upchucking through which one expels their negativity and doubt in the form of small, amphibious-looking creatures that are both ugly and adorably expressive (and vividly rendered by the film’s effects team).
Suffice to say that Paul and company’s well-being will prove inextricably tied to the existence — or not — of these reflective critters. That “fact,” later explained by the retreat’s forceful founder (Oliver Platt), neatly encapsulates the lessons and metaphors here that effectively play out in the movie’s swift, nicely shot finish.
Rating: R, for language including some sexual references
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Playing: Vintage Los Feliz 3; also on VOD