Review: The Cleansing Hour (2020)

Directed by: Damien LeVeck. Starring: Ryan Guzman, Kyle Gallner, Alix Angelis. Runtime: 1h 34 min.

Based off his short film of the same name (which was a proof-of-concept for this feature), Damien LeVeck’s The Cleansing Hour is a unique beast in exorcism terror.

Father Max (Ryan Guzman) is a celebrity priest who hosts a weekly web show that broadcasts exorcisms live on the Internet. These exorcisms, by the way, are a hoax and just make for good entertainment.

Max’s best friend and producer Drew (Kyle Gallner) wants to expand the business but Max doesn’t care about that and is just in it for the views. However, on this week’s episode, retribution is coming as on this episode of The Cleansing Hour, the exorcism is very real and they need to figure out the demon’s name to survive the hour.

I really liked this concept as a fake exorcism show and I liked the idea of watching these people, who aren’t experienced with exorcisms other than research, would adapt to this crazy situation. It’s hard for them to adapt to this with a crazy powerful demon in their midst, and they just have to go with the fluidity of the situation.

I’ll admit I wasn’t sure how the great premise would sustain itself for 90 minutes as so many films just suffer from poor pacing, but LeVeck smartly handles it as a retribution story of making Max and Drew confess their sins, and how they lead false lives. These secrets are interesting yet sometimes predictable, but they keep the dynamic between the pair interesting as they’re threatened to be torn apart.

I mean their friendship being torn apart and not them, though this film is surprisingly brutal, so you never know. I was surprised by some of the brutality here, as it feels like an extreme exorcism at times in its horror. It’s never difficult to watch but it can get gnarly, and I watched it with a smile on my face wondering how they pulled off certain things. I liked how the action started in an alleyway with a possessed woman who stays very low to the ground, too.

We don’t know much about her, but that intro to the film’s horror is creepy. Then, we get to know the demon possessing Lane (Alix Angelis), who is Drew’s fiancé and is playing the part of the “possessed” because the person coming didn’t make it to the set. Angelis sells both parts of her role, just normal Lane and then the possessed Lane. LeVeck is able to play with the dark humour that comes with talkative demons, though this never intends to be comedy.

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Kyle Gallner in The Cleansing Hour. (Courtesy of Shudder.)

The horror’s always surprising and good, and the only downfall to this film are its visual effects. The VFX aren’t a large enough presence to bog the film down, but they look wonky at best in two key scenes, as the CGI seems to reveal certain budgetary constraints. Though, some of the practical effects here are stellar, especially when we see the film flirt with some wild body horror. I won’t spoil that, but that moment is awesome.

The social media aspect here also hits, depicted through everyone around the world being glued to their phones watching this unfold (which makes for solid cut-away moments), thinking it could just be another episode until they learn it’s real. The commentary of everyone being obsessed with social media and views is interesting, too.

With this aspect, Father Max comes off as obnoxious who only cares about views, because he does, and it’s no different than a lot of people. We come to understand him throughout the film and get why he’s doing this – thanks to the sympathy-grabbing backstory – but this aspect of him makes Drew more likable in comparison as he drives to make the show better and tries to help his friend survive.

Acting-wise, both Ryan Guzman as Max and Kyle Gallner as Drew are good and they have a strong chemistry and there’s a bit of tension, and it’s believable they’ve known each other a long time. Individually, they’re solid, too, and I liked Drew’s character because we got to see the behind-the-scenes of how this web show would work, which really made that aspect more engaging, at least for me.

There’s an authenticity with this behind-the-scenes stuff and all the research that’s done about exorcisms, and the authenticity in the cinematography by Jean-Phillippe Bernier, like when we see the grimy quality of the livestream cam, is great, too. This all makes The Cleansing Hour stand out as an enjoyable exorcism film with a cool premise and strong execution.

Score: 75/100

The Cleansing Hour begins streaming on Shudder in the U.S., Canada, U.K. and Australia and New Zealand on October 8, 2020.

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