‘The Cleansing Hour’ Review: The Power of Christ Compels the Internet
By Daniel Rester
The horror streaming site Shudder has been dropping a lot of “Shudder Originals” lately with Halloween around the corner. The latest is called The Cleansing Hour and comes from director Damien LeVeck, based on his 2016 short film of the same name. It’s a possession film with a fresh angle that fits in perfectly with the Shudder crowd.
The Cleansing Hour follows two longtime friends who have a web series where they broadcast “exorcisms” live. All of it is fake of course, but the two enjoy it and the show brings in thousands of fans at times. Max (Ryan Guzman) is the reverend who battles the evil spirits and talks to viewers on camera, while Drew (Kyle Gallner) is the tech wizard behind the computers calling the shots.
The viewership and creativity of the show have plateaued and Drew is considering moving on. When one of the victim actors doesn’t show up on set one day, Drew’s fiance Lane (Alix Angelis) steps in to play the role. Things start off normal, but Max, Drew, and the rest of the crew soon realize that Lane has actually become possessed! Even worse, the demon controlling her asserts that the show must go on or people will get hurt.
LeVeck’s film takes aim at Internet culture and Catholic guilt, poking fun at both while playing the possession stuff seriously. The result is a horror film that’s both humorous and intense, with a tongue in its cheek while also not being a full-on comedy. The chaos of the demon’s attacks reminded me a bit of Sam Raimi’s works at times, with fast editing and things flying all over the place. All of this works well, while the humor is more hit and miss. Some of the jokes land, but moments like a demon saying “keep it 100” are cringeworthy.
While the screenplay is a bit uneven with those horror and comedic elements, LeVeck does a skillful job of displaying everything. The practical gore effects here are awesome (especially when one being tears through a body), and some of the CGI is solid too. Only one scene with CGI fire looks really bad. LeVeck stages the action with energy, keeping the film moving and feeling alive despite the majority of it taking place on one sound stage. The low-key but suspenseful piano music helps with the rhythm too.
The director cuts away to different pockets of viewers watching the show at times. He also uses the now-common effect of showing viewer comments scrolling on a computer screen. Some of this took me out of the horror at times, but the viewer angle does have a payoff so it didn’t bother me too much in the end. LeVeck uses the Internet platform to give possession horror a different look, but he should have either gone further with it or scaled it back. Where it lands feels half-baked and in the way of the struggles Max and Drew face. It’s those two we really care about.
Speaking of caring about the characters, a lot of the film succeeds because of Guzman, Gallner, and Angelis. All three actors are excellent, completely selling it when the demon forces their characters to expose ugly truths. With the help of some superb makeup and her physicality, Angelis makes for one creepy demon. Guzman and Gallner are also asked to do a lot, keeping their characters terrified nearly the whole running time.
The Cleansing Hour is a fun possession film with flawed but likable characters, crafty visuals, and a thrilling pace. The mix of horror and comedy and demons and Internet language can be uneven at times though. Still, LeVeck is doing enough differently with the supernatural possession subgenre here to be thankful for. This a perfect film for the Halloween season and Shudder was smart to nab it for their service.
My Grade: 6.8/10 (letter grade equivalent: B-)
Running Time: 1h 34min