Another successful “exorcism” streamed online – or so it seems. Can the “exorcist”, producer and their team bring the ratings up? Ratings skyrocket, when a real demon gets involved.
The latest self-produced feature from Shudder, the streaming channel devoted to horror, The Cleansing Hour proves to be the most frustrating of experiences, as it is a film with a clever premise, yet it makers can’t get out of their own way so that it might reach its full potential. As written by Aaron Horwitz and director Damien LeVeck, the movie is at turns very smart in characterization, but almost as often, misguided in driving home its theme. However, that’s likely to be of little concern to genre fans who will be impressed with the expert special effects used to bring to life the supernatural shenanigans that plague the three principals, all of which accentuates the genuinely disturbing tone LeVeck steadily builds on to a truly memorable climax.
Taking a page from the 2010 found footage gem The Last Exorcism, Ryan Guzman stars as Max, a modern-day religious charlatan who poses as an exorcist, dispatching your garden variety demons on his weekly streaming show The Cleansing Hour. Of course, it’s all fake, the spewing vomit, bleeding skulls and sets bursting into flames all executed with special effects commandeered by Drew (Kyle Gallner), the brains behind this scam. And while the show has a loyal following, it certainly isn’t as large as either of them want, as this duo seeks a way to break out of their niche market and into the mainstream. Unexpectedly, an opportunity falls into their laps. When the actress cast as the latest demon-addled-sinner-to-be-saved cancels at the last minute, Drew convinces his actress girlfriend Lane (Alix Angelis) to fill in so that Max can work his “magic” and rescue yet another “troubled soul.” She reluctantly agrees and winds up giving the boys much, much more than they anticipated as she actually becomes possessed just before the cameras roll.
For the most part, what ensues is inspired. Max and Drew’s initial reaction to the very realistic situation that’s playing out before them is one of surprise and gratitude over Lane’s convincing performance, which finally gives way to surprise, disbelief and finally horror once they realize they’re in the company of that which they’ve continually mocked. As the demon gains more control over Lane, the script takes an interesting turn as each of the three principals are required at numerous points to confess to sins they’ve committed towards one other. Each revelation is more devastating than the last, the emotional carnage matching the physical, which dramatically increases once the demon tires of playing with them and unleashes its fury.
Horror fans will not be disappointed by the violence and gore on hand as LeVeck is far from stingy where these elements are concerned. However, they never come off as gratuitous, each dismemberment or self-inflicted wound serving a greater narrative purpose. And while Guzman and Gallner are fine, it’s Angelis who steals the show, the actress going full tilt in a role any performer would cherish. Contorting her body with abandon and uttering the vilest insults with relish, there’s a twinkle in her eye throughout that gives away just how much fun she’s having rending the scenery in a role that requires her to actually rend the scenery.
Had Horwitz and LeVeck kept things on a modest scale, confining the action to the single set where the show is produced, they might have had a classic, horrific chamber piece on their hands. Too bad the third act is filled with unnecessary tangents and lazy plot points that nearly undercut the smart work that preceded it. Still, The Cleansing Hour serves to be a serviceable shocker, one that flirts with greatness but is ultimately satisfied with mediocrity.