Interview: Writer/Director Bobby Miller for THE CLEANSE

THE CLEANSE is the first feature length film from writer/director Bobby Miller, also known for the short film Tub (2010), which premiered at Sundance Film Festival in 2010. THE CLEANSE is a refreshingly unique film that fuses magnificent practical effects with comedy and whimsical horror to create a genre bending experience. THE CLEANSE isn’t just a fun film; this is a movie with a message and it evoked a wide range of emotions. I was laughing one minute, appalled the next, and believe it or not, I cried at the end. It’s rare for a genre film to make me cry, so that’s saying a lot about this movie! The film boasts an impressive cast that includes Anjelica Huston, Oliver Platt, Johnny Galecki, Anna Friel, and Kyle Gallner. THE CLEANSE will be in theaters and VOD on May 4th and you absolutely need to make plans to see it. Ahead of the film’s release, Nightmarish Conjurings had the opportunity to speak with Bobby Miller about THE CLEANSE, metaphors, creature features, and more!

Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Bobby! I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me about THE CLEANSE. I really enjoyed this film!

Bobby Miller:  Oh awesome. Thank you!

Nightmarish Conjurings: THE CLEANSE is such an original story. What inspired you to write it?

Bobby Miller: I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression and was looking for a way to fix that, whether it be meditation or exercise. Eventually, I found cleansing. When you read about people who have done cleanses, whether it’s the Master Cleanse or whatever, a lot of it is about restarting your life and all the positive benefits you get from it. It was something that I came to on a personal level and then as I tried it and I went down the rabbit hole, I realized that there is something a little funny about this, but it’s also heartfelt, and then the creature thing happened (laughs).

Nightmarish Conjurings: For me, THE CLEANSE is very much a throwback to films of the eighties, like GREMLINS or GHOULIES. Were you influenced by those types of films at all?

BM: Yes, for sure. I grew up on Gremlins, E.T., and Beetlejuice, and then as I got older I think my taste got a little weirder. Cronenberg was big for me and John Carpenter’s, The Thing in particular. I think it’s a weird combo platter of those influences and the unifying thing with all those was the practical effects and it was really important for me to use practical effects in this movie.

Nightmarish Conjurings: That brings me to my next question because I thought the effects were amazing! How much of what we see in THE CLEANSE is practical effects versus CGI? I spent a lot of time looking at the creatures trying to figure out how much of it was practical effects.

BM: That’s great to hear. We wanted the line between what’s practical and what’s CGI to be very unclear. The majority of the film is practical effects, for example, the first few stages of Johnny’s creature are pretty much 100% practical. Then the main stage of the creatures, that you see the most of, has a little bit of CGI for things like ear wiggles or furrowing of the brow, little things just to make the puppets seem a little more alive. That’s really it. It’s more supplementing the practical effects.

Nightmarish Conjurings: I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but there are a lot of metaphors in THE CLEANSE. How did you come up with the idea to use the creatures the way they are used in the film?

BM: The creatures are supposed to represent the baggage in our lives. What I thought about in terms of people’s baggage was like, if you saw a really socially awkward person in the movie you might think that’s endearing or cute, but in reality if you let those traits go, they can fester and be debilitating. Social anxiety can be super debilitating. I kind of used that as the framework for how the creatures were represented. At first maybe they’re a little weird and they’re also kind of cute, so you’re kind of not sure what to think about them. I won’t say anymore, but you can kind of guess where the creature design was meant to go after that (laughs).

Nightmarish Conjurings: THE CLEANSE has a phenomenal cast! What was the casting process like and why did you choose the specific actors who appear in the film?

BM: The first person who came aboard was Johnny Galecki and we just really hit it off. We joke a lot about the first time we met for coffee that turned into like a date (laughs). He really related to the themes in the movie and I really wanted actors who could kind of dig into their own personal demons. People really started taking the movie seriously once Johnny came onboard and then the other actors followed. I think people really identified with the metaphor of the movie and hadn’t seen something like that so they were attracted to it. For me it’s like, Anjelica Huston! That’s crazy because it’s the first feature film I’ve done. As a fan of genre movies like The Witches or The Addams Family, it’s like Anjelica Huston is the same person (laughs). It was very surreal for me. I think what the cast can do is they can maybe ground things that are absurd or surreal on the surface. I just think they’re excellent across the board.

Nightmarish Conjurings: What do you hope audiences will take away from this film, other than the obvious as far as what the creatures represent?

BM: I’m hoping they just have an experience. I think the less they know about the movie, the better. For me, the best movie going experiences are where you go into something and you’re just like,”wha- whaaat WHAT?!” (laughs) You’re not sure where it’s gonna go and so I hope people are entertained. The movie is funny and it has lots of interesting practical effects that people haven’t seen in years. If they get anything more after that, you know some people have been moved at the end, and if they get that, that’s awesome, but really it’s just about having a very unique, original experience. That’s what I’m hoping for.

Nightmarish Conjurings: What are you working on now that you can tell me about?

BM: I just finished a short called End Times, which premiered at Boston Underground Film Festival. It won Best Short Film there and it’s been playing the festival circuit. I’m about to head out to Maryland for it and I haven’t seen it with an audience yet, so I’m excited to see it. That’s what I’ve been up to in terms of directing stuff and I just wrote another way bigger creature feature and I have a supernatural television show idea, so maybe I can get some momentum on those and make them.

Nightmarish Conjurings: I’m personally looking forward to seeing more films from you because I really loved THE CLEANSE. It’s just so refreshing and I enjoyed it a lot and I think that’s because it’s just so different. It seems like Hollywood likes to recycle the same ideas.

BM: Well, thank you! I really appreciate that. It’s hard to get a movie that’s this unique made, so hearing people respond in that way is like, “Oh! It was all worth it.” The one thing I wouldn’t mind seeing recycled though, would be a new Gremlins movie (laughs).

Nightmarish Conjurings: I totally agree! I would love to have a new Gremlins movie.

BM: (laughs) I think the world is ready!

Nightmarish Conjurings: Thank you for taking time to talk with me today and I wish you a lot of luck with THE CLEANSE!

BM: Thank you so much!

THE CLEANSE arrives in select theaters, On Demand, and Digital May 4th from Vertical Entertainment.

Director Bobby Miller
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