|'Miller's commitment to using only practical effects throughout is commendable and more than just a middle finger to CGI-driven fare'.|
Blending fantasy, comedy, body horror and creature feature, The Master Cleanse has obvious influences from the likes of Carpenter and Cronenberg as well as the 1980s output of Dante and even Spielberg. Stylistically there are also nods to the more recent offbeat cinema of Spike Jonze and Wes Anderson. Writer and director Bobby Miller makes The Master Cleanse a smorgasbord of cinematic homages, a decision that makes his film a pleasing love letter to movies past and present, but which also stifles his own original voice from ever coming through.
At just 81 minutes long, The Master Cleanse ultimately feels caught between extended short and brief feature film. Miller's decision to pad the central idea out in places rather than trim it down overall is frustrating, but one which he just about gets away with in the end. Still, there are far too many elements which either jar overall - the Jonze-esque opening act on reflection feels like it comes from a somewhat different film to everything else - or lack the development to truly satisfy.
The weird-yet-cute unnamed creatures introduced midway through the film are the most prominent example of this. Miller's choice to offer minimal explanation of exactly what they are initially works, injecting some intriguing mystery into proceedings. As the film progresses, however, the lack of definition in the director's ideas becomes more and more problematic as Miller increasingly seems like he doesn't know where he wants things to go. The subplot following Eric (Kyle Gallner) and Laurie (Diana Bang), for example, feels potentially more interesting than that of main characters Paul (Johnny Galecki) and Maggie (Anna Friel) but is frustratingly allowed to fall by the wayside during the muddled final act.
Casting Galecki in the lead role is also an error. Paul is never distinct enough to The Big Bang Theory's Leonard, rendering his infatuation with Maggie feeling too much like a retread of Galecki's character arc on the sitcom. Oliver Platt and Angelica Huston bring some welcome experience to the cast, although both are somewhat underutilised in supporting roles.
Despite its problems, however, The Master Cleanse ultimately gets by on the creativity it showcases. Miller's commitment to using only practical effects throughout is commendable and more than just a middle finger to CGI-driven fare, both tying the film to the vintage cinema the director clearly reveres and lending a pleasing tangibility to the film's supernatural elements. Whilst structural issues mar Miller's feature debut, there's also enough of worth here to mark him out as a filmmaker to keep an eye on.
The 30th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 3rd-17th November 2016 at thirty venues across the city, including Hyde Park Picture House and Leeds Town Hall. Tickets and more information are available via the official LIFF website.