Writer/Director Damien LeVeck and writer Aaron Horwitz bring a fresh look at the exorcism sub-genre that manages to be quite scathing with its social commentary on our abuse of online personalities and need to find fame. There is so much to love in a film that will surprise you.
Online personality Father Max (Ryan Guzman) hosts ‘The Cleansing Hour’, a show that livestreams exorcisms every week. Produced by his childhood friend Drew (Kyle Gallner), they have found their show and friendship heading towards a crossroads. Max wants the fame and glory that is taking too long to build and Drew wants to be with his fiancée Lane (Alix Angelis) and to move on from the show. When an actor no shows Lane is persuaded to be the exorcisee that week. But from the start, things begin to go wrong live on air for hundreds of thousands worldwide to see.
You would be forgiven that we are set for an amusing satire with some horror elements in the first act and credit has to go to the writers for easing the audience in this way. We get to know the dynamic of the crew, the show and importantly our leads. We have been expertly set up and when the other foot drops in where The Cleansing Hour goes, it is a tad more unexpected than you would expect.
Taking The Monster Squad direction of an actor having to portray his real-life persona to safe not only himself but his best friend and his fiancée. Max is in a no-win situation here as the anti-hero. The direction our demon takes him down to get his comeuppance is both gratifying and humorous. He needs to see what he has been doing is not right and our trapped Lane will make him more than aware.
This is as simple a plot as you can imagine and instead of making this just a straight found footage film. Which honestly would have ruined the film by the way. We get to see the outside world of the show. We meet the audience members our in the bar. Opening the audience up to seeing people watch the show ala The Truman Show. Seeing others react to what we are all witnessing allows for the breaks away from the horrific events onscreen.
This touch is also a biting indictment of the world we live in. While all of this is going on via peoples screen and eventually spread onto the news. At no point it seems do the police come to halt it. It would not be hard to find the building, yet it seems as if no one contacts them as it is viewed as everything happening is a show. The audience numbers grow as events get darker and all these people do is watch and comment. It must have been a right giggle for the team to write all of those comments. Honestly watch The Cleansing Hour a few times and read the comments filter down the side of the screen.
We venture into Evil Dead territory (2014 version in style) with the effects and it works so well. Damien LeVeek truly lucked out in obtaining Studio ADI (Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr) in doing their special effects for some of the designs, as they do stand out and help take The Cleansing Hour to another level. Ilinca Angelescu and Ionel Popa have also done exceptional work in their special effects makeup work. They have all made the low budget spread so well and you would honestly believe there was a lot more money spent on it than there is.
For a horror like this. It requires the makeup and special effects to look good otherwise the film will fall on its face. When the gore and effects come in you don’t expect it to be as practical as it is. Usually, we would get cheap CGI not so here and it makes the horror fan in you gasp and get a kick of delight at the same time.
While the crux of the story is about our two male characters, the absolute star of The Cleansing Hour is Alix Angelis. For how much of the film she is trapped to a char, she can power the film in its lulls. Her movements work and she has such great physicality in the role, putting her body into awkward angles to make the exorcism show its effect on her. Angelis also has to switch between her character Lane and the demon. Which means she has to very careful on making sure she doesn’t go off into comical parody. Happily, she keeps it as straight as possible allowing believability to form in her performance.
Our three leads excel with what they have been given with and they perform their roles well (excellently in Angelis’ case). Yet the script lets them down here. Instead of the entire exorcism connecting fluidly as you would hope, we are left with several ideas joined together. Now these are very god set pieces and ideas brought into the picture, but they do lack that connection. We know Max isn’t the best guy morally, but do we need to have that hammered into us as much? This feeling of padding to our next moment causes an audience disconnect and the cliché tropes to keep going hurts the film a tad.
With the promising script. Based off a short of the same name. Horwitz has finally brought something new to the table for audiences starving for good exorcism content. Our ending is clichéd slightly. However, it is well done and the special effects to get us there and the cutaways are horrifically entertaining. A hint or at least a thought of a sequel and in all honesty there is room to take the series from where we leave it.
The Cleansing Hour is fresh and as entertaining as any horror you will see this year. The satire is rife throughout, yet when it needs to get serious it does so very well. With some great performances and effects, this is a horror film that ups the entertainment dial up to 11.
The Cleansing Hour is available to watch on Shudder now.
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