Director: Damien LeVeck
Screenplay: Damien LeVeck, Aaron Horwitz
Starring: Ryan Guzman, Kyle Gallner, Alix Angelis,Chris Lew Kum Hoi, Daniel Hoffman-Gill, Emma Holzer
Running Time: 94min
Max (Guzman) and Drew (Gallner) are internet superstars, producers of the hugely popular live stream The Cleansing Hour in which “Father Max” exorcises poor souls possessed by demonic entities. The catch is, none of it is real – it’s an elaborate hoax dreamed up by two friends to cash in on the streaming craze. But when Drew’s girlfriend, Lane (Angelis) offers to participate in one of the shows episodes, the possession becomes horrifyingly real and tests both Max’s faith and his friendship with Drew, as well as the beliefs of his audience.
One of Shudder’s newer arrivals, The Cleansing Hour sets itself up as a smart horror satire, a teardown of influencer culture, modern celebrity and the believability of those shows that we watch online. Max purports to be an exorcist and his audience laps it up – do they question the validity of the show? Perhaps. But they still buy his (Vatican approved) merchandise and tune in every week to see him drag the demons out of his next guest.
It’s an interesting premise, a look at the slick productions that a lot of modern internet shows can afford and the way they’ve launched the modern celebrity, as well as the hosts constant quests for views, likes and shares. But there’s another angle to the plot as well, one of an indictment of organised religion which begins to rear its head as we explore Max and Drew’s childhood at catholic school.
Sadly, after a fairly strong and intriguing start, the film doesn’t manage to maintain its momentum. The initial reveal of the actual possession is played well with Max’s gradual realisation that Lane’s convincing performance is not down to her acting skill or his production team, and the use of reactions from his actual fans (including those who are clearly underage, another satirical poke, this time at the reliance on mobile devices as childcare tools) creates a great set up that the film fails to cash in on.
It’s biggest crime is its lack of identity – is it a satire or a straight up horror film? The satirical elements gradually begin to strip themselves away to reveal more horror elements that eventually build up to a finale that wants to be shocking but ends up being contrived and dull with any possible chance of a smart twist on the set up thrown out of the window in the last half hour.
Visually there are some interesting elements, but the cinematography is too flat and, despite some standout practical moments, the effects are largely too reliant on cheap looking CGI. The constant switching between the action on the set of the show and its viewers, some of whom are introduced fairly late into the story, jars after several cut aways.
Thankfully the performances from the core cast make the film watchable, from Ryan Guzman as Max, the arrogant “Priest” who is making the show for the fame, money and women, to Kyle Gallner as Drew who believes in both the production and the aspects of faith that lie at its core. But standout among them is Alix Angelis as Lane, who’s transformation from caring girlfriend into lunatic demon is fantastic, channelling vibes of both The Exorcist and Evil Dead in equal measures. For an actor who spends a large amount of the films run time strapped to a chair, to command the screen in such a way is a great achievement.
Sadly it’s not enough to outright save the film with its meandering, plot that often fails to engage and a finale that doesn’t stick the landing whatsoever, The Cleansing Hour is at best a fun distraction, at worst fairly mediocre.