The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Shudder] - THE CLEANSING HOUR | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Shudder] - THE CLEANSING HOUR

A fake exorcist is forced to battle a real demon.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Damien LeVeck

Starring: Ryan Guzman, Kyle Gallner, Alix Angelis, Emma Holzer, Giulia Nahmany

One of the few worthwhile movies from the found footage horror craze that emerged in the wake of Paranormal Activity's success was 2010's The Last Exorcism, which explored the notion of a fake exorcist being confronted by a very real demon. It's often said that religious viewers are more susceptible to horror because they believe in the possibility of what they're seeing play out in fiction. As a horror fan who doesn't have a spiritual bone in my body, I have to disagree. I would argue that the secular horror fan is just as susceptible to the thrills of the genre because they play to our fear that we just might be wrong about the existence of that which we can't explain. For that reason, I always enjoy horror movies in which a sceptical protagonist has their beliefs, or lack thereof, shaken to the core.

Director Damien LeVeck (if that isn't a horror director's name I don't know what is) offers us one such protagonist in his feature debut The Cleansing Hour. Father Max (Ryan Guzman) is the host of 'The Cleansing Hour', an online show in which he purports to livestream exorcisms. In reality, Max is no priest at all, and the "exorcisms" are played out on a Los Angeles soundstage, the operation overseen by his childhood friend Drew (Kyle Gallner, whom you might remember as the young actor who always played goths in teen horrors of the noughties).

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When an actor scheduled to play the part of a possessed victim fails to show up, Drew ropes in his fiancée, Lane (Alix Angelis), to take on the role. At first, Lane seems surprisingly adept at the part, but it soon becomes clear that she really has become possessed. For the first time in his fraudulent career, Father Max must battle a very real demon. As Max is forced to submit to an array of increasingly humiliating acts, all livestreamed to an audience growing into the millions by the minute, he and Drew must figure out a way to defeat the demon, using the mythology they've previously only appropriated as props in their charade.

In its opening act, The Cleansing Hour appears to set itself up as a comedy. Max's act is so over the top that it's impossible to believe anyone could be really taking him seriously. But once the real possession kicks in the movie unwisely drops this facade and plays its horrors straight. The trouble is, we've seen so many possession dramas at this point that The Cleansing Hour quickly becomes derivative. Secrets of Max's past and his insecurities are exposed, which is a well worn trope of this sub-genre that dates right back to William Friedkin's The Exorcist. Later, when demons begin to emerge in physical form, the movie enters Evil Dead territory, a diversion which again would have made more sense if the movie were playing all this with its tongue firmly in its cheek. If played for laughs, this might have done for The Exorcist what Galaxy Quest did for Star Trek, essentially forcing an actor to assume his role for real.

The Cleansing Hour is a feature length expansion of LeVeck's 2016 short of the same name. I haven't seen that short but I imagine this story was better suited to such a format. At 95 minutes, LeVeck struggles to justify the run time, and the sub-Exorcist/Evil Dead antics soon become tedious. Part of the problem is that it assumes we have some sort of investment in the relationship between Max and Drew, but they're thrown immediately into the action before we really have a chance to get to know them. Unlike the show within the film, which racks up millions of viewers by the minute, The Cleansing Hour will likely struggle to keep you glued until its climax, which admittedly offers a neat final twist.

The Cleansing Hour is on Shudder from October 8th.