Written by: Adam Vaughn | October 8th, 2020
The Cleansing Hour (Damien LeVeck, 2019) 3 out of 4 stars.
The most unfortunate obstacle in the way of director Damien LeVeck (Dark, Deadly, and Dreadful) is the overused and worn subgenre of supernatural/possession films, particularly when said subgenre is currently at max capacity in our pop culture. That being said, The Cleansing Hour gives the possession genre a fresh new angle and incorporates a modern, social-media driven aesthetic. The film tells the story of Max (Ryan Guzman, The Boy Next Door) and Drew (Kyle Gallner, Alien Code), who together host a webcast show imitating exorcisms and demonic possessions, with Max taking on the role of a priest character. On the night the two decide to feature Drew’s girlfriend, Lane, on the show, things take a supernatural turn for the two imposing “exorcists,” as an actual demon possesses Lane and takes the entire cast and crew on a one-way trip to terror.
The film is relentless, immediately diving into the tension within the first half hour, and never letting up from there. The premise of a webcast streamed worldwide is introduced early enough in the film to establish location and characters while at the same time showing the global impact of the story’s events. The momentum, throughout, is breakneck, moving from one intense, horrifying moment to the next. Unlike films such as The Exorcist and The Conjuring, where the boundaries of good and evil are clearly drawn, The Cleansing Hour remains ambiguous in its moral dilemma, presenting the main characters as vain, imperfect humans susceptible and unprepared for the supernatural enemy before them. The dynamic between Max – a phony priest with a painful, Christian past and several dark secrets – and the unknown demon terrorizing the film set creates an interesting conflict.
As intense and gripping as the film may be, The Cleansing Hour eventually takes the stakes too far, reaching for plot points that cross the line of authenticity and sacrifice believability for the sake of keeping the tension going. The film seeks to surprise the audience, yet what it accomplishes instead is going back on the promise of the premise, throwing the established conflict out the window in an attempt to broaden the scope of the horror element. Various moments, while scary, are left unexplained, and many otherwise thought-provoking ideas are only briefly introduced never to be revisited. In many ways, LeVeck has created a concept perfect for a short-form story (and this feature is adapted from his earlier, eponymous short film), yet lacking in content for a longer narrative.