Director: Damien LaVeck
Notable Cast: Ryan Guzman, Kyle Gallner, Alix Angelis, Chris Lew Kum Hoi, Daniel Hoffman-Gill, Emma Holzer
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 truth.
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.