10/05/2020

The Cleansing Hour (Review)

Director: Damien LeVeck 
Writers: Damien LeVeck, Aaron Horwitz
Cast: Ryan Guzman, Kyle Gallner, Alix Angelis, Chris Lew Kum Hoi, Daniel Hoffman-Gil
Year: 2019
Min: 93

Max (Ryan Guzman) is the host of a rising in popularity, live, online exorcism show called The Cleansing Hour. What is unbeknownst to his followers and viewers is that it is all a load of bullshit, as everything is scripted and uses actors. Max is, admit ably, a dick, off camera, and definitely not the primary example of priesthood. On his next episode, there is a last minute cancellation. His partner in this social empire (complete with merch like "Vatican authorized" shawls!), Drew (Kyle Gallner), asks his lovely fiancée Lane (Alix Angelis), who is an aspiring actress, herself, to step in and take over as the possessed individual.

Max isn't too pleased with these circumstances. Alas they have to go live immediately, forcing him to just go with it. Soon, Lane begins to go against script, and it doesn't take long for the reality to set in. She has been possessed by a very real, murderous, and powerful demon. Said hellish entity warns them that if they cut the feed; he will kill Lane and anyone who tries to escape. Max, with the help of of Drew, soon finds himself, in a very real and deadly exorcism, as viewership continues to rise worldwide (something the demon, himself, desires) for this live vision of demonic terror.

The Cleansing Hour is a possession/ horror film from director/ co-writer Damien LeVeck based on his 2016 short film of the same name. And, from the very get go, the movie knows how to grab and hold your attention. It starts with an exciting, albeit staged exorcism that does a good job setting up much of the film. And, once the "real" horror kicks in, it really doesn't let up, turning into one fuck of a good time.

The movie is set in current times and captures much of our world today, with its themes of social media, its popularity, and the control it can have over an individual. An example of this comes in the form of Max's desire to get more viewers, in order to get a verified account. In fact, it very much serves as a commentary on the social media obsessed culture in which we inhabit. And, in keeping with this time setting, there are also some political shots at President Trump. This is something which I definitely enjoyed. Most of these were clear and upfront, but one comes from a fan comment during the live feed, is blink and miss it. 

I really liked the behind the scenes aspect of the film, which feels very believable both in the world that it sets up and in ours. LeVeck adds some humor to the flick. Not all of it works, but some of it most certainly does. Possessed Lane delivers a couple of memorable one-liners, that are fun in a cruel and deliciously evil sort of way. 

Whenever she kills or attempts to kill, it really manages to grab your attention and glues your eyes to the screen. As such, LeVeck really knows how to pile on the nail-biting intensity. You feel as caught up as the characters watching the exorcism feed in the movie, itself. One example, of many, of  the film's power comes in the form of a truly harrowing hallucination scene. The movie leads into an extended and truly fucking awesome climax. This helps to elevate the film into yet another level of quality.  Throw in a wild epilogue of news clips and headlines, and you have a killer film that ends on a truly ass kicking note. 

The acting from the whole cast is very strong. The main characters are well defined, with Kyle Gallner's Drew and Angelis' Lane being very likable. Angelis is giving a lot to work, as she is both the sweet girlfriend and the evil and cruel demon, many times within one scene. Ryan Guzman is also given a lot to work with as Max is a complex and ever growing character. At first, he is a total dick and easy to hate. But, as the story progresses, he redeems himself and becomes more likable. Sure this isn't a new idea, especially within religious themed horrors, but his acting and the story makes it all work excellently. Even some of the minor characters are given the chance to shine, like film student Riley (the beautiful Emma Holzer), who quite frankly reminded me of many a film student, myself, included. 

This all being said, the movie does have its flaws. One of them being the fact that there are definitely some cliched spots in it. But, you will be so entertained in what is going on, that you'll look over them rather quickly. A bigger complaint, for me, comes from the jump scares, most of which are fake outs and none of which really worked.  

Another problem is the CGI, which, unfortunately, isn't very good. But, once again, the film is so involving that you can completely look past this. On the other hand, the practical FX are really good, especially a gruesome transformation. As a matter of fact, the movie also has some good moments of gross out and gore. Among these include barfing (of course!), bare feet getting cut on glass in a moments that tries to out die hard, Die Hard, immolation, finger chomping, pencil to the eye, and more. 

The sub-genre of possession is, in my very humble opinion, one of the hardest to get right in horror. Thankfully The Cleansing Hour really manages to deliver the goods and is a fun and engaging ride. Sure it has its faults, mostly when it heads towards a more cliched path. But, all of this is saved and fixed thanks to great acting, likable characters, and very strong and intense directing, The climax is fucking incredible and gets your adrenaline pumping. Throw in some commentary and allusions to the current world in which the movie was shot in (IE, pre-COVID 19 America), and you have a truly a kick ass and fun as hell satanic flick. You will be able to see The Cleansing Hour on Shudder, when it begins streaming on there on Thursday, October 8, 2020.


3.5 out of 4

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