The Cleansing Hour

**1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Cleansing Hour
"LeVeck has more story ideas than are initially apparent and saves the best till last."

The scam artists faking exorcisms who find themselves confronted by a real demon: it’s not a new idea but enthusiastic execution helped to make this a real crowd-pleaser when it screened at Glasgow Frightfest. It follows sleazy self-publicist ‘Father’ Max Tyler (Ryan Guzman) and his best friend and technical coordinator Drew (Kyle Gallner), whose popular streaming show (which shares its title with the film) has been making them a tidy profit but has also attracted attention from an unexpected quarter. When, one night, the actor they expected doesn’t show, Drew’s partner Lane (Alix Angelis) steps in, and that’s when the show’s demon fan decides to make an appearance.

There’s some nice set-up work here. Director Damien LeVeck moves us in and out of different perspectives, starting with a show that looks real, then pulling back to a computer screen, then a phone screen, pointing up the layers of deception at work in the story itself. He has fun with stylistic clichés in the way the show is shot and its opening sequence edited, whilst throwing in a couple of clichés of his own: a woman stalked in an alleyway, a crew member throwing up something unpleasant and looking distinctly the worse for wear. He takes some time out to establish character (and give Guzman a first opportunity to get his shirt off) before launching into the main narrative, which has its own playful moments, like the point at which a self-appointed intern dismissed as a bimbo steps up to say “I studied ancient languages in prep school.”

Copy picture

The bulk of the film involves Max and Drew trying to identify and banish the demon, so that they can save Lane, whilst the demon enjoys torturing and humiliating all concerned. Some of the confessions it forces from them don’t really seem like a big deal – there’s a reliance on the audience having a certain mindset – but there is, of course, a fair bit of gore present to please horror audiences and LeVeck has fun with the notion of a demon as a film director. There are also some more serious themes around the idea that fake news is inherently evil and has a dangerous radicalising effect on viewers, as well as reflections on the lingering impact of child abuse.

The film’s biggest problem is its repetitive, intrusive score, which too often distracts one from the action rather than adding to the tension. Furthermore, whilst suspending disbelief about the existence of the supernatural is one thing (and indeed, some viewers will sincerely believe in demons to begin with), you may need to have spent several years working in tech support before you’ll be willing to believe that this particular demon is powerful enough to do anything except control a computer; or that a show of this sort, however real it looked to be getting, would attract quite as many viewers as this does. A little patience here will be rewarded, however, as LeVeck has more story ideas than are initially apparent and saves the best till last.

Shot almost entirely in one room, the film makes smart use of its limited budget. It should also be credited for its diverse casting and willingness to treat Tyler, rather than the women involved, as the target of the demon’s sexual exploitation. Overall it has a cheap and cheerful vibe despite its dark themes. It may not be the most sophisticated horror film you’ll see this year, but it knows how to entertain.

Reviewed on: 07 Mar 2020
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The Cleansing Hour packshot
Millennial entrepreneurs, Drew and Max, run a webcast that streams live exorcisms that are, in fact, elaborately staged hoaxes. They get their comeuppance when today's actress becomes mysteriously possessed by a real demon that holds the crew hostage.

Director: Damien LeVeck

Writer: Damien LeVeck, Aaron Horwitz

Starring: Kyle Gallner, Ryan Guzman, Joanna David, Emma Holzer, Alix Angelis

Year: 2019

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: US


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