Director: Damien LaVeck
Notable Cast: Ryan
Guzman, Kyle Gallner, Alix Angelis, Chris Lew Kum Hoi, Daniel Hoffman-Gill,
Since the release of The Exorcist, the number of
exorcism films released has been astounding. The waves of popularity in the
genre comes and goes with the tides, but often it’s just a retread of the same
concepts, plots, characters, and ideas. Occasionally there are some intriguing
slants to the proceedings, such as the weird South Korean exorcism meets Blade
hybrid Divine Fury or strong execution to carry it like The Last Exorcism,
but often times its simply an exorcise in exorcism that goes through motions.
Then, of course, there’s The Cleansing Hour. It’s oddly a film with a
meta-layered commentary about the redundancy and familiarity of the tropes where
it feeds into its own formula with such an energetic and poppy manner that it comes
off as, dare I say, charming. It’s often very familiar, but its strength comes
from the chemistry of its characters along with a somewhat scathing observation
about the nature of modern streaming entertainment. It’s a highly entertaining ‘demon
fucks with people dumb enough to fuck with demons’ flick and it knows to play
up the gimmicks with a sly smile even while working through the main points.
In the world of live streaming, it’s possible to make a business
out of any experience. This is what Father Max and his best friend and tech guy,
Drew, aim to do with an exorcism scheme. Faking exorcisms seems like all fun
and games, particularly with the merchandising, niche celebrity fame, and
creative outlet that comes with it, but when a real demon gets wind of it,
suddenly it’s all too real. With a time limit on hand and live on the air, the
small rag-tag crew of The Cleansing Hour live stream will have to figure
out a way to defeat their greatest threats yet – consequences, reality, and the
Starting off with a generic exorcism, The Cleansing Hour
immediately sets up the formula for its audience. Most horror fans will already
know the beats, but the opening sequence intentionally reminds us what the
usual exorcism sequence would look like. Although this inherently throws the
audience in for ‘fake-out,’ complete with a behind the scenes break down of the
crew, cast, and concept of their live streaming show, it’s a relatively effective
way to kick off a showcase of the film’s real angle: a break down of the system.
As the rest of the pummels through the checkboxes of its structure and
narrative, it actively plays into them in a manner that deserves a nice big ‘meta’
stamp next to it. Not all meta-concepts work in film, but there is a fine
balance between showing all of the usual and expected material and a cynical spin
that felt shockingly refreshing. Certainly, this is a ham-fisted way of going
about it, post-modernity that can rub an audience raw, yet The Cleansing
Hour has just enough charm and thoughtfulness embedded in the tropes that
it has an edge.
In the attempts to run the gauntlet of exorcism films, The Cleansing Hour entertains in some fantastic ways. The script smartly keeps the focus for most of the final two acts squarely during the live feed where the demon lays out its plans. There is a time limit to the proceedings, a solid body count, and plenty of big moments to keep its audience engaged. Most of the character beats feel the most forced, particularly as each member of the crew must learn a lesson as the demon plays puppet master with them, but the lightning-quick pacing and fun horror moments make the film feel breezy to watch. Some of the effects can be more hit or miss, the CGI rat monsters that appear for one sequence being the big standout where the budget shows its seams, but director Damien LeVeck works around the spectacle for splashy flashes. While the film jukes its way through a minefield of possible obstacles that would derail it, it maintains such an entertaining flourish that consumption is easy enough.
The Cleansing Hour is hardly a revolutionary film.
The meta-commentary on the genre film is, in itself, something to be expected
in modern horror and the film regularly smashes the tropes of an exorcism film
by hitting them so hard, but I’ll be damned if this isn’t a hell of a fun
flick. The characters are just intriguing enough, the plot is just mysterious
enough, and the focus on big demonic set pieces go down incredibly smooth. Keep
an open mind and The Cleansing Hour ends up being one of the more
memorable exorcism flicks in recent years.