What’s up, Buttercups?
It took me a long time to find my next ‘bad movie’ to review. Maybe I have a high tolerance for pain or else I’m just very good at finding something about almost every film that I think saves it from being abjectly terrible.
The problem I have with Johnny Galecki is that ever since Big Bang became a mainstream hit; you can’t really see him as a different character. He’s had a decent career but thanks to Big Bang he will forever be known as “The Guy Who Plays Leonard From The Big Bang Theory.” It’s hard not to draw parallels too, he mostly plays awkward characters with some form of social problem (there are several characters who all hail from New Jersey). He should be a relatable character… but he’s never really centre stage and when he is, we kind of overlook him.
He plays Paul, an unemployed, heartbroken man looking for something to fix his broken life.
In the opening scenes it’s all too easy to imagine him as Leonard during one of the periods where he and whoever-he-was-dating have broken up.
During a late night on the sofa he sees an add for a free retreat where he can ‘face his demons’ and start a new life. Instead of acting as Leonard would, he jots down the website and attends the local meeting. Here he meets Maggie (Anna Friel) and Eric (Kyle Gallner) who each have their own problems they are looking to escape.
Eleven minutes in and it’s hard not to draw more comparisons between Paul and Leonard. They both obsess over a girl they’ve just met and they both talk way too much, and go off on tangents, when they’re nervous, he’s soft spoken and a bit of a people pleaser. He’s awkward and fidgety. The only major difference seems to be that he isn’t wearing glasses.
This is another film that sports some very prominent names and makes me begin to question if Hollywood has a seedy underbelly where stars bet on how bad a film they can make and right there career afterwards. Oliver Platt (who I love and always have, ever since The Three Musketeers) plays the founder of the retreat, Ken Roberts and he is joined by Lily (Anjelica Huston) who has the weirdest entrance on record. She walks out of the woods and over a small footbridge screaming… followed closely by the strange Fredericks (Kevin J. O’Connor – Beni from The Mummy… the good one with Brendan Fraser).
From the outset the retreat seems to be the usual New Age-y mess of drinking weird stuff and being told the phases and how beautiful and rewarding graduating will be.
Things take a weird turn when Paul discovers a strange creature in the pipes of his cabin which he believes he expelled when the cleanse made him vomit.
It turns out that these little creatures – while cute in an ugly dog kind of way – are the physical manifestations of their inner demons, though never explicitly stated as such. Once you realise what the stages of the programs mean… you kind of begin to worry about them when we get to the stage called “Extermination” you kind of put the pieces together.
Each of the creatures begin to mimic their… hosts? Owners? Parents…? And react to emotional cues. The creatures seem more eager to open up than their… hosts (I’m going with hosts) as both Paul and Maggie are reluctant to share but after a short time the creatures bond.
Through tricks and subterfuge, Ken Roberts, helps Maggie and Paul face hard truths about themselves and then making them face the little creatures that came from them and telling them to kill them. Considering how cute the little creatures are, it’s not hard to see why some of the residents – including Fredericks – have trouble killing them.
This is a theme in the film, I can’t say a big one because there isn’t time to build on anything. This inability to let go of the negatives in life. To hold on because it’s familiar and letting go can be terrifying because it means we have space for something else in our life.
Paul and Maggie try to leave after discovering that one of the other residents died as a result of not following the rules of the retreat. They are confronted by Roberts and Lily who want them to hand over the creatures. It turns out that Ken Robert’s didn’t even managed to finish to cleanse and that – literally – if you don’t kill your inner demon it will kill you.
The creatures grow bigger, losing much of their cuteness and becoming things that might have lurched forward from a nightmare.
This film is on this list because it’s another idea that could have been much more and was never realised. We’re never shown the implications of what happens after a cleanse. There are no other patients show us what a success story looks like.
The film is amazingly short. It’s 80 minutes… including end credits – which I watched in case there was a post credit scene… there wasn’t. The film’s 71 minutes and that leaves everything feeling undercooked.
The ending comes out of nowhere and there isn’t any character growth because we know so little about the characters. We can’t revel in their success because we’re don’t know what they’re putting on the line. We’re never shown what they gain by finishing.
Everything is in a vacuum so nothing has any consequence.
A character dies and I could barely tell you her name (It was Laurie played by Diana Bang, thanks IMDB) because all I know is; she was there with Eric as a couple. That’s it. Maggie’s there for cosmetic reasons – a vaguely hinted at a body image problem that’s never pinned down – addressed five minutes before the end and Paul’s there because his fiancé left him and he lost his job.
It doesn’t even really have a genre. It flirts with being a drama, a fantasy and – at times – a horror film… but it never commits to being anything.
It feels like it should be the pilot episode of a sci-fi TV show.
There isn’t even a climax. Maggie and Paul kill their demons, who have somehow merged, and then they hug and the credits roll. The demon doesn’t even fight back. It just lies there and lets them choke it. There’s an attempt to make it a meaningful scene but considering we’re never shown any of the inciting incidents to why the characters chose to “get pure”, there is no weight to this.
In short… It’s a short film with nothing behind it except a cool idea of a cleanse actually bringing out your inner demons.