In what was its biggest year for original content, Shudder released Damien LeVeck’s The Cleansing Hour in October 2020. Audiences and critics in kind responded positively. Now if you’ve watched enough horror movies, there’s a better than average chance you’ve seen a demonic possession movie. Since The Exorcist shocked audiences in the 1970s, the horror genre has given fans plenty more of the same, if not a little more underwhelming at times. But The Cleansing Hour puts a bit of a modern twist on the subgenre. Here, a sham priest’s livestreamed staged exorcisms go horribly wrong when a real demon re-writes the script. But is this contempoary tweak enough to help The Cleansing Hour stand out?
With his childhood friend Drew as producer, “Father” Max hosts the wildly popular livestreamed ‘The Cleansing Hour’. Backed by carefully researched scripts and elaborate production design, ‘Father’ Max hosts staged exorcisms over the Internet. Its an elaborate hoax complete with its own merchandise store. But the hoax goes off the rails when a real demon throws out the script and possesses The Cleansing Hour’s latest subject.
The Cleansing Hour Overcomes Familiarity With Genuinely Suspenseful Story
Demonic possession movies are a dime of dozen. At any given time, Netflix may have several titles available for streaming. So if you consider the possession movie to be its own subgenre, The Cleansing Hour doesn’t deviate much from well-used tropes. Nevertheless, if it lacks originality, writer and director Damien LeVeck still concocts quite a bit of suspense. For much of the movie, there’s a genuine sense of not knowing where The Cleansing Hour is going to turn next. Yes, there are actual stakes. Moreover, LeVeck’s paces his scares and shocks resulting in a taut horror movie. And audiences can expect a few good shocks. Conversely, The Cleansing Hour occasionally hurts its tense story when it diverts to what initially feels like random peripheral settings. Without spoiling the movie, there is a payoff to these scenes.
For much of the movie, there’s a genuine sense of not knowing where The Cleansing Hour is going to turn next.
LeVeck and co-writer Aaron Horowitz’s screenplay packs in a quite a few ideas. To some extent, The Cleansing Hour takes a ‘throw everything at the wall and see what sticks’ approach. Similar to other social media horror, The Cleansing Hour is instantly a dark takedown of the hollowness of our ‘verified’ and ‘likes-based’ culture. Yet LeVeck and Horowitz also tackle our new celebrity culture while sneaking in a questions about organized religion and the sources of our faith. Not surprisingly, some ideas stick better than others. Nothing really coalesces into a coherent subtext. As a result, The Cleansing Hour is at its best when it sticks to the horror elements and the more intimate relationships between its characters.
The Cleansing Hours Boasts Impressive Effects and Performances
As mentioned above, The Cleansing Hour packs a few gruesome horror moments. What’s particularly impressive is that these scenes are achieved clearly on a modest budget. In general, the effects prove to be quite impressive. Occasionally, The Cleansing Hour extends beyond its reach. As a result, some of the movie’s effects don’t quite hit the mark. But it’s a minor criticism for what’s a pretty impressive achievement. Arguably, a bigger problem is that The Cleansing Hour slips into melodrama here and there. This generally refers to the segues into those peripheral scenes and characters.
Of all the characters in the movie, The Cleansing Hour’s screenplay gives Gallner’s ‘Drew’ the most sympathetic character. And he builds on that foundation with an immediacy befitting the character.
Regardless, The Cleansing Hour’s central conflict remains compelling. In this regard, the major performances are exceptionally good. Horror veteran Kyle Gallner (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Red State) stands out amongst his castmates with a remarkably good performance. Of all the characters in the movie, The Cleansing Hour’s screenplay gives Gallner’s ‘Drew’ the most sympathetic character. And he builds on that foundation with an immediacy befitting the character. But Ryan Guzman’s character arc is much more interesting, if not a bit obvious. As the possessed ‘Lane’, The Cleansing Hour forces Alix Angelis to turn in a largely physically role, of which she does an admirable job. When the movie focuses on the relationships between these characters, it’s at its best.
The Cleansing Hour Proves the Demonic Possession Subgenre Can Still Possess Audiences
Despite some bumps along the way and an overall air of familiarity, The Cleansing Hour is one of the more fun horror movies Shudder has released in recent memory. No, nothing here breaks any new ground. There’s nothing we haven’t seen in past exorcism movies. And LeVeck and Horowitz’s story doesn’t bring all its different ideas together. Still this demonic chiller proves to a fun 90 minutes of horror that includes several shocks and surprises. From start to finish LeVeck keeps you watching and its cast is top-notch. The result is a horror movie that can stand up to multiple viewings.