I have always been fascinated by demonic possession. Not necessarily as a real thing, per se, but just as a concept. I grew up in a Baptist family, so the Catholic rites of exorcism, which are in pretty much every possession movie, intrigued me with all their pageantry and use of Latin. So, when presented with the chance to see Damien LeVeck’s The Cleansing Hour, I jumped at the opportunity because it takes the subject of demonic possession to a place I’ve never seen before.
Max (Ryan Guzman), or excuse me, Father Max, runs a successful webcast showcasing his fantastic ability to cast demons out of the possessed. In the beginning, we see Father Max perform an exorcism on a young man, with all the typical accouterments such as flickering lights, holy water, and incantations. Once the exorcism is over, we see that the whole thing was staged. The possessed person was never possessed by anything except the need for an acting gig. The show’s producer, Drew (Kyle Gallner), is Max’s best friend and partner in this enterprise. We discover that Father Max is obsessed with getting more followers and the elusive blue checkmark next to his name (but for real, who do you have to f**** to get one of those things?).
Drew is in it for the money because he and his fiance, Lane (Alix Angelis), have a honeymoon to pay for. Plus, he’s always been by Max’s side since they were altar boys in Catholic school. The next exorcism on the docket doesn’t show up, so make-up artist Lane, who attended drama school, does it. This is when all hell literally breaks loose. The next exorcism has to be for real, as Max and Drew do whatever they can so that no one dies.
“…[the] exorcism has to be for real, as Max and Drew do whatever they can so that no one dies.”
A side plot has to do with their childhood at the Catholic school that shows how deep Max and Drew’s friendship runs. This side plot adds rather than detracts from the central action. LeVeck and Aaron Horwitz’s script is whip-smart, sometimes hilarious, and sometimes devastating, but always daring and original. For this to be LeVeck’s debut feature is extremely impressive. He had previously directed shorts and an entry in the horror anthology Dark, Deadly, and Dreadful, which I now want to see.
Jean-Phillipe Bernier’s cinematography is awesome, but that is entirely unsurprising if you’ve seen the other films he’s worked on, such as Summer of ’84 or Dinner In America; which Kyle Gallner also starred in. I find it interesting that they worked on another movie so soon together. Ryan Guzman and Kyle Gallner truly have the chemistry to serve as believable long-time best friends, and I also think the two of them are exceptional actors in their own rights.
Essentially, The Cleansing Hour is a brand new twist on the possession film. The ending is fantastic and leaves it up for debate as to whether there could be a sequel…you’ll see what I mean. I insist that you add this to your horror film repertoire for October. It’s a surprising, extraordinary possession film in a sea of overdone, hackneyed, boring possession films that have been made relentlessly since after The Exorcist. I’m so glad that The Cleansing Hour didn’t end up being one of those. I enjoyed the time I spent watching it, and I’m sure you will too.
"…sometimes hilarious, and sometimes devastating, but always daring..."