[“Cleanse” is just one of the horror shorts from my “7 Halloween Shorts for 2020” post. To view the other shorts, head over to THIS post!]
Unlike the other films in Out on Film Festival’s “Horror Shorts for Halloween”, this short film from 2019 had very little information. Other than a very short teaser and imagery of crystals, I didn’t know much else. After watching “Cleanse” – I STILL don’t know much about this short.
Synopsis of “Cleanse”
We start off during another crystal cleansing session. Dana (Samone Murray) is working around a client, but suddenly we catch a glimpse of what she sees – a bloody tendril attached to the woman’s chest. Cue the title screen. Waking up in her bedroom, Dana begins her day with a sage burning and cleansing ritual. This is not only her practice, but part of her life. But later that evening as she wraps up after her last client, it’s clear that Dana is tired. Perhaps stressed, or overworked, she’s ready to go home – when suddenly the door opens and two women enter. Taking a moment to regain her calm demeanour, Dana introduces herself to Jessica (Lauren Lox) and her wife, Ashley (Katy Atkinson). Apparently, Ashley has been having hosts of problems lately with anxiety, sleep waking, aches and pains, bad dreams. Doctors haven’t been able to help, but Ashley seems to think Dana can.
It’s equally clear that Jessica does not believe there’s any benefit to crystals or cleansing and wants to leave – but Ashley insists. After a quick opening prayer, Dana gets to work using her crystal to find the source of Ashley’s troubles. What she finds is terrifying! Multiple bloody tendrils connect to Ashley, feeding off her energy. Working within her own special vision, Dana cuts one of tendrils away with her crystal, visibly noticeable on Ashley’s face in the “real world”. But when Dana realises that the tendrils connect back to Jessica – Jessica abruptly ends the session and forces Ashley to leave. Dana gradually tries to return back to the real world and cleanse away the horror she just tried to remove, but then we cut to a vision of Dana sitting in the chair with all of the tendrils linking to her!
While a short film doesn’t always need to wrap up the story, it should not end leaving the viewer with even more questions than at the start. That is the biggest issue with “Cleanse” – it simply doesn’t go anywhere. (Or the arc is so minute and subtle). There is no resolution to Dana’s weariness and if anything, she’s now worse off than at the start; Ashley still leaves without getting help. I seriously have to question whether the funding ran out… or if the writers actually thought they told a story! Additionally, knowing a decent bit about crystal healing and working with negative spirits myself, even I was confused regarding that part of the story. I almost wonder if writer/director M. Burger, picked a topic that not may know specifics about and relying on that lack of knowledge, gave her short story a “horror” twist visually. But even for a horror or “supernatural” element, it missed the brief.
Other aspects of “Cleanse” aren’t as horrendous. The casting and acting from our three females was sufficient – but nothing extraordinary. All I could perceive about Dana from Murray’s performance was that Dana is tired and overworked, it lacked any depth that I was hoping and at the end, begging for. The real strength of this short film is the cinematography and the actual horror visuals. The contrast between the cool colours of the clinic and Dana’s “real world” vision and the dark, bloody vision where she can view the negative energy created a stunning juxtaposition! The actual tendrils themselves were deliciously bloody – at one point I could even see a pulsing vein! But even still, there were some other shoddy issues I couldn’t overlook. Right off the bat, the camera was horribly shaky to the point I started thinking this was a student project. Not that that’s a bad thing! But the impression the filmmakers give off going into this short film is that they are trying to stand out as female director in the horror genre with a diverse cast & production crew. While they are certainly gaining attention, I feel like they have missed the mark on key aspects.
I don’t like writing negative reviews – but I equally cannot sugar coat problems when they appear. “Cleanse”, despite great intentions of diversity and with a rather intriguing plot, failed to bring the viewer along the promised journey. I can see potential, had they explored some of the topics they glossed over a bit deeper. Equally, I think this team will keep improving in the future. Perhaps they will bring us something a bit more horrific next time!
Queer Relevance of “Cleanse”
The only queer relevance in this short film is the fact that the two women who come in to get healed are married lesbians. But frankly, it doesn’t really matter that they are lesbians other than a *slight* extra subtext of possession by the stronger and more dominant wife over the other.