There are a lot of possession movies out there, so many in fact, that unless they’re superb they tend to get lost in the repetitiveness of lowered voices, projectile vomit, and cursing at priests. So, when I walked into the world premiere of The Cleansing Hour, I expected to see a standard possession romp that blended into the background. But by the time the 94-minutes was up I was floored by the detail, creativity, and horror gold that director Damien LeVeck put into this film.
The Cleansing Hour stands head and shoulders above American-made films that have come out in the possession genre in recent years. It’s imaginative, comedic, and uses disturbing details to bring to life amazing practical effect that throw-back to body horror classics. In The Cleansing Hours, we follow two millennial entrepreneurs, Max (Ryan Guzman) and Drew (Kyle Gallner), who run a popular webcast that streams “live exorcisms.” Having built a social media and streaming empire, the two have relied on elaborately staged hoaxes to pull in millions all while peddling fake Vatican Blessed cloths along the way. But, when Drew’s fiancée becomes mysteriously possessed by a real demon, the crew becomes its hostage and the best friends’ sins come to light in front of a rapidly growing global audience. Now, these aren’t just ordinary confessions, oh no, the demon subjects the crew to a series of violent and humiliating challenges that expose their sins, secrets, and pull in server-breaking audience size.
What makes The Cleansing Hour all the more entertaining is the use of cuts to audiences watching in their daily lives and the inclusion of an onscreen chat which, as LeVeck pointed out during his post-film Fantastic Fest Q&A, was all generated by his friends who watched the film. By balancing reactions that run the gamut from those concerned for the lives in the livestream to those trolling, this layer of social interaction does a lot to give the film dimension beyond your typical possession film. In addition, the immense amount of detail given to every effect feels real on film and showcases the power of the practical effects. From burnt skin sticking to surfaces, skin falling from a demon’s back, and light dismemberment The Cleansing Hour is a film sure to hit body horror lovers right in their deep dark hearts.
The only fault with the film lies in its use of slang by the young PA who is clearly from a world unattached to our main characters and LeVeck’s making her dialogue seem forced at points. That being said, every other member of the cast has dialogue that fits their identities in an authentic way that allows the relationships to fill with a natural chemistry that works not only in their happy moments but in the moments where they are being torn apart.
Even with one bad performance, it’s the film’s stars and the care put into every inch of their characters that makes The Cleansing Hour a true horror winner. As Father Max, Guzman brings emotion in his portrayal of not only someone who was hurt by religion and turned a profit from it, but also as a character who desperately wants to do good in spite of his faults. He is both someone you want to hate and someone you want to comfort, which is no easy feat.
But, the film’s true star is non-other than Alix Angelis who plays the character of Lane, the possessed girlfriend. In a physically demanding role, Angelis delivers a performance that stands out at the top of its kind. It’s dark and irreverent without becoming campy. Her ability to contort her face and body while shackled to a chair is as deeply chilling as it is captivating.
Covered in blood and commanding the room, Angelis’ ability to hold the scene while she simply stared was amazing. In addition, the voice work done to make the demon’s voice is well beyond anything I’ve heard in years. There is a quality of gravel and a rot within possessed Lane’s voice that is truly terrifying. Plus, the sound designer’s mixing of Tara Karsian‘s voice with Angelis’ own is so seamless I believed that Angelis was making it on her own.
Overall, The Cleansing Hour is a film that hits so hard and unexpectedly that it makes you push back in your seat. As you watch the narrative twist like a possessed girl’s body it engages you with superb creature designs and practical effects while making you laugh with its dark humor that puts a mirror up to how we all behave online.
The Cleansing Hour is coming to exclusively to Shudder in 2020.
The Cleansing Hour
The Cleansing Hour is a film that hits so hard and unexpectedly that it makes you push back in your seat. As you watch the narrative twist like a possessed girl’s body it engages you with superb creature designs and practical effects while making you laugh with its dark humor that puts a mirror up to how we all behave online.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.