“The Cleansing” comes from Shane Ryan, a young fella who channels his drive for filmmaking into exploitative violence, and recently into a pseudo-snuff feature, “Amateur Porn Star Killer.” Looking like he just stepped from his senior yearbook shoot, he slips right into younger roles in his films. He’s noteworthy for his aggressive energy, and an ability to have young ladies shed their clothes, often as canvases for violence. Visceral but less mature, his work feels like bits of wish-fulfillment for an aspiring mass-murderer (the subject of his amateurish short, “Sane”).
So it’s a relief to find “The Cleansing” so restrained. In this follow-up to “Isolation,” Ryan once again works in an alternate mode that shows more potential. Maybe his other works, with their frequent use of music-video kinetics, forced him to take a break. Or perhaps we should thank his co-director/cinematographer, Karen Kopy, who may have encouraged him to rent “About Schmidt” one night instead of “Cabin Fever.” This short provides more than its banal subject (and title) should offer, with extended shots that let scenery create the mood of a young man’s (Ryan) coping. It opens with a long, grainy take of the young man walking on a road that at once subdues and sets the tone. Unfortunately, the film can’t avoid film-school clichés, like abusive dads using cigarettes and convenient flashbacks, which often break the mood. The filmmakers also chose a score with vocal content that addles what the subtle footage has to say. (I chose to mute the sound for what became a more effective second viewing.)
If the auteur here is Kopy, I would like to see her move on to more ambitious themes; and if this in any way reflects Ryan’s inspiration, then I’d suggest he develop it and abandon his penchant for the chaotic.