Social media-based horror is hitting its stride this year and they’ve all got a thing or two to say about the dangers of our online activity. The biggest danger that most focus on is our obsession with likes, shares, and gaining clout. It’s all about the clout these days, and the more you have it, the more you crave it. But what if that clout crave brings your inner demons to light? What if it summoned an actual demon into existence?
Damien LeVeck’s The Cleansing Hour focuses on an internet show of the same name in which Father Max (Ryan Guzman) performs exorcisms on the reg. He’s an attractive member of the clergy whose work for the Lord has garnered him quite the following, but it’s all an act(!) revealed to us after the opening exorcism. With the help of his best friend Drew (Kyle Gallner), effects team Lane (Alix Angelis) and Tommy (Daniel Hoffman-Gill), and production assistants Chris (Chris Lew Kum Hoi), Riley (Emma Holzer), “Father” Max has created faux exorcism after faux exorcism and he’s led the masses into believing that he is legit.
Their work has garnered so much attention that an actual demon takes an interest in their show, and decides to involve itself during what the team hopes is their most successful faux exorcism yet. Thanks to said demon, that goal is reached and surpassed as their views reach into the millions. The setup is fairly standard to get the possession shenanigans started. Max has planned to have a drag queen as that week’s poor victim, but they never make it to the shoot due to the demon’s interference and Drew’s fiance Lane is thrown into the role. Instantly, she is possessed by the demon, garnering surprise from the crew as well as from the viewers at home. When the normally curated effects occur without any aid from the crew, they realize that this possession is very real.
The Cleansing Hour supplies the need for a few hell yeahs, or a few hail Marys, whichever the demon’s crazy antics move your soul to do. There’s vomit. There’s blood. There’s burning skin. There’s *cringe* fingernail trauma. All of the horrible things that happen to Lane while she’s possessed are based on secrets of the entire crew’s past. This sets an urgency to the film that ramps up as the film goes along. The demon has a goal that it must complete before the runtime of the show is up. The closer it gets to the end of the show, the more desperate it becomes, and therefore, the more intense its manipulations become. There are a few cliché decisions though so take those moments to breathe. The demon still has some surprises in store.
I’m one of those horror fans that’s tired of possession films that rely on the context of religion. I get it, demons and religion go hand in hand. While textbook religion does play a part in the film, there’s another religion that becomes a part of the film’s message. Director, Leveck, and writer, Aaron Horitz, have crafted a story that pinpoints how individuals have become obsessed with acquiring fame through the internet. Individuals allow this desire to possess them, turning them into someone that they are not. This use of a possession metaphor is captured brilliantly throughout The Cleansing Hour.
As the possession unfolds, we see the response from a number of viewers from around the world. We get a taste of the success that Max has garnered with his faux exorcisms, and also from this possessed individual that he has become. The viewers adore him and crave the content that he releases. They don’t care if it’s real or not. They only want the famous clergyman to piss off the demon so that it settles their need for an intense watch, as well as the satisfaction of a successful exorcism. The issue of internet fame is a tit for tat deal. The creator puts it out there so that the viewer feeds their needs, and the viewers get their needs met with the content that is put out. It was a relief to see Leveck and Horitz show how toxic both sides of the table can become.
Guzman’s Max begins the film with a load of ego that makes him easy to dislike. The more the demon begins to tear away at the person Max has become, the more emotion Guzman puts into the character. A true 180 is visible in Guzman’s portrayal as we near the end of the film. Gallner’s Drew is the glue that helps hold Max together. He begins the film as Max’s enabler, promoting this character that Max has become. Although he’s a part of that, Drew knows the real Max. His attempts to chip away at “Father” Max to reveal the actual person underneath makes for an endearing performance. Drew not only has to assist Max, he also has to be there for his fiance as the demon chips away at her soul too. Angelis gives it all during her possession. She creates a snarky demon who revels in the sadistic and gory acts that it is creating. The physicality of her performance perfectly suits the possession, but it’s the small moments of taunting and bargaining where Angelis truly gives the demon its bad side.
The film’s finale completely slams the hammer on the nail as to how taking in such a phenomenon can affect the viewer. To say that the moral of the story is a brutal one would be putting it nicely. Is it Max and his surviving crew that deal with the consequences of the story’s moral, or is it their viewers? I’ve been craving a new, fast-paced spin on this subgenre and The Cleansing Hour delivers in spades. It will attempt to possess you and may surprise you with just how sadistically pleasant that possession will be.
“The Cleansing Hour delivers in spades. It will attempt to possess you and may surprise you with just how sadistically pleasant that possession will be.”
The Cleansing Hour premieres exclusively on Shudder on Thursday, October 8th, as a part of the 61 Days of Halloween lineup. Be there for the snarky demon, the gag inducing moments, and to add another Kyle Gallner film to your watchlist before he appears in Scream 5! Let us know what you thought on our Twitter, reddit, Instagram, and on The Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook.