So as I browsed through Shudder last night looking for a new, unseen horror to keep me entertained for an hour or two I came across one of their newer films- The Cleansing Hour. The Shudder Original follows a socialite named Max (Ryan Guzman), a 'Priest' who performs exorcisms via live via the internet for his legions of followers who buy into his persona and love watching him defeat evil with every exorcism he performs. The only thing is...it's a crock. With the help of his best friend (and business partner/producer) Drew (Kyle Gallner) and his production crew they stage each exorcism and make a tidy profit off of it. Well that is until it goes horribly wrong on their latest episode.
"Max and Drew are millennial entrepreneurs who’ve made themselves famous with a webcast they created called “The Cleansing Hour,” which streams LIVE EXORCISMS. The catch? Each exorcism is elaborately staged. Until today, when Drew’s fiancé, today’s actress in the chair, turns out to actually be possessed! Will Max and Drew be forced to tell their 20 million viewers? Or are they the pawns in a greater demonic conspiracy?"
So as the film begins we learn the ins and outs of the show, as well as the characters backstories. I'll say this from the beginning, Max is cocky, arrogant, big headed twat with a huge ego. I honestly can't think of a better way to describe him. Listening to him complain about various aspects of the show and how he's not verified on social media yet is just the tip of the iceberg (honestly, it was infuriating) whilst his business partner and the show's producer, Drew, is busy working his ass off to keep everything running smoothly. The film makers for me have got the characters (and casting) spot on. Max's self entitled, egotistical attitude is fantastic...and it only gets worse before getting better. Let's be honest how many times have you seen or heard about an influencer making an ass out of themselves by asking for something for free or purposely staging stuff for their online persona?
As they make final preparations for their next episode, which is minutes away from going live, their main cast member is a no show. You find out why! So to save the day Drew manages to convince his reluctant fiancé, Lane (Alix Angelis), to fill the role as their possessed victim that Father Max will exorcise and save. Max, originally opposed to the idea, gives in after Drew makes it clear Lane filling the role or they cancel the episode. And so we begin...
So as Max starts exorcising the demon in Lane as scripted, all seems well at first. When Lane begins going off script Max tries to improvise before being head-butted by her. It then becomes apparent that something is seriously wrong as the possessed Lane reveals herself. After brutally disposing with the special effects artist to demonstrate this is as real as it gets, the demon sets out a list of rules. Unless these are followed he'll kill Lane! One of which is the feed needs to remain live at all times, and in keeping with the hour long episode clock he tells Max he has an hour to exorcise him and save Lane.
I don't really want to go into much more as I'll end up ruining what I thought was a really good film. There's a lot more than meets the eye, and the real reasons this demon has decided to take on Max and Drew becomes clear as the film progresses and their past comes back to haunt them. If you're anything like me you'll get to a certain point within the film where you think you know exactly where it's going and what is going to happen...you don't. I thought I knew what was coming, I was very very wrong! There was a lot of lies and deception going on within The Cleansing Hour.
Overall I really enjoyed this film, it surprised me just how much I enjoyed it. In the world where common sense rarely prevails and hundreds of thousands of people live for social media and the likes they get, it's got a pretty good message calling out the so called 'influencers' and their incredibly fake, polished online personas. Like how far would some go to gain followers, get likes, sell yourself for internet fame or make a quick buck?
Very strong performances from the cast, some great deaths and I loved the effects. The designs on the demon and some of the other creatures seen in this film were not only unsettling but really well done. I thought it was really well shot and edited, cutting into some of his followers watching from various parts of the world was a very nice touch (and made that ending even better). As for the ending...wow! Turns out there was a lot more than meets the eye, it threw me as I thought I knew where the film was going. If you're one for happy endings all wrapped up nicely, I can tell you now this film won't be for you...there really is no happy ending. It'll leave you wondering whether or not Max actually learnt anything from this experience as well as how screwed our race and existence is. Part of me would love to see a sequel and see what happened after those credits rolled, but another part of me is worried it couldn't live up to this one in the first place. Either way folks, make time to watch this one! This offers something fresh and unique to a sub-genre of horror that appears to have become stale in recent years, much like Unfriended did for the found-footage sub-genre. As far as possession films go, this is up there among the likes of The Exorcist and The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
The Cleansing Hour, directed by Damien LeVeck, is now available to watch on Shudder (7 day free-trial available).