We’ve had plenty of films about fake ghost hunters who find themselves in over their heads when real spirits show up. In The Cleansing Hour director Damien LeVeck and co-writer Aaron Horwitz have a fake exorcist meet a real demon. Was expanding their 2016 short to feature-length a good idea? Or should they have just said hell no?
Father Max Tyler (Ryan Guzman, Backtrace, Step Up: All In) isn’t really a priest, but he plays one on the internet. Along with his friend Drew (Kyle Gallner, Ghosts of War, Outsiders) he broadcasts The Cleansing Hour, a web series where he performs dramatic and spectacular exorcisms. It’s all faked of course. But enough people not only believe it but buy their equally fake “Vatican Approved” merchandise that they make a damn good living.
Until the night when their actress doesn’t show and Drew’s fiancé Lane (Alix Angelis, ECCO) agrees to step in and promptly becomes possessed for real. It seems the Legions of Hell want some payback for the way they’ve been portrayed. And they’re going to get it, broadcast live.
One of the things that crossed my mind early on while watching The Cleansing Hours was how much Max resembled actual TV preachers. All piety and miracles in front of the camera, all about money and sleeping with his fans off camera. He could easily be another Jim Baker. Or Jim Jones.
Only instead of TV, his audience is on the internet, and social media gets to take its share of abuse. In terms of the commentary on what people will do for fame on it. And in terms of comments from, and reaction shots of, The Cleansing Hour’s audience. Yes, they keep broadcasting with Max trying to stay in character amongst the carnage for as long as possible. Tacky, but the ratings are going through the roof.
But how does The Cleansing Hour fare as a horror film? Pretty good actually, especially considering how many possession and exorcism films we’ve all sat through already. The demon itself is commendably nasty, obviously enjoying toying with, humiliating, and killing the cast. Angelis, with Tara Karsian as the voice of the demon, does a great job portraying both Lane and the Earthly vessel of the demon.
LeVeck and Horowitz keep the story moving at a good pace and The Cleansing Hour doesn’t lack for demonic activity. Certainly, we’ve seen some of it before, the sink that fills with blood instead of water, flame tattoos that become the real thing, etc. But the film moves along fast enough that there isn’t time to dwell on it. And no matter how many times I see it, bare feet and broken glass make an effective combination. That scene and some other fairly gruesome ones are rendered with practical effects. There’s also a lot of CGI for fire effects and other demonic activity. It’s not great, but I’ve seen a lot worse and the demon’s final form is quite convincing.
Less effective however is the confession the demon forces out of Max near the end. It’s certainly awkward, but for from shocking, and not really much of a surprise either. It could easily have been made worse, which would have made the reaction to it more justified.
But at 94 minutes The Cleansing Hour is, overall, a fast-paced and fun watch. It may not be something that sticks in your mind, but it’s fun while it lasts. And stick with it right to the credits, the final shot may be the most frightening of them all.