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Film Review: ‘The Cleansing Hour’ Puts a New Spin on Exorcism Movies

Exorcisms are a popular horror movie trope. Something about watching someone contort their body in irregular ways, creepily don an otherworldly sounding voice, or spew unnaturally colored vomit has been captivating scary movie fanatics for decades. The difficult task is to create an exorcism movie that hasn’t already been made. With films ranging from Oscar winning The Exorcist to The Conjuring, it may feel like all of the good ideas have already been taken. When an exorcism movie comes along and offers a new idea: that is something to be excited about.

The Cleansing Hour tells the story of two friends, Max and Drew, who run a popular webcast that streams live exorcisms. What viewers don’t know is that these exorcisms are all smoke and mirrors, until an actor actually becomes possessed during an episode. The number of viewers begins to skyrocket as we follow the pair attempting to figure out how to stop the demon before it’s too late.

The film is a feature length adaptation of director Damien LeVeck’s 2016 short film of the same name. Crafting a 93-minute long film from a 19-minute one is no easy feat. However, LeVeck succeeds at adding interesting aspects to bulk up the film’s runtime with help from writer Aaron Horwitz, who also wrote the short version.

Besides both of The Cleansing Hour films, Horwitz was also one of two writers on the 2015 Alexa Vega thriller Roommate Wanted. These films are the first where he has been the sole writer. It seems that the he is most comfortable in the thriller or horror genre, and considering what he brings to the table, that is welcome. Throughout the storyline, Horwitz weaves multiple twists, turns and surprises that will keep you unsure until the very end. Not only is a disgusting and disturbing tale told, but also older stories from the character’s past are blended wonderfully into it.

LeVeck is also seemingly happy having found his place in the horror genre. Besides this movie and short, he has directed two other spooky feature films, including Asylum: Twisted Horror and Fantasy Tales. The director has a way of inserting effects into this motion picture that are, in a word, revolting. In any other genre of film, this would be frowned upon, but as a scary movie, it seems LeVeck has found his stride. Multiple moments of this film will make you cringe, some will make you jump, and others will make you laugh, and these are all thanks to successful directing and writing from the duo.

Ryan Guzman, who plays Max, is seen in a different light in this picture. Having previously been featured as a sexy teen in The Boy Next Door or a dancing talent in Step Up All In, playing a lying Pastor is quite the change for Guzman. While he’s not at all likable in this movie, he’s not supposed to be, and that serves as a testament to Guzman’s performance in this film. Sometimes the actor feels too artificial or tacky, but overall he delivers a strong performance as a twisted, distasteful character.

Actor Kyle Gallner, who plays Drew, also takes on a different kind of role in this movie. Some may recognize Gallner from American Sniper, Ghosts of War, The Finest Hours, or Red State. This time around, instead of taking on the role of a character amidst a war, he faces a much different kind of battle while trying to save his possessed girlfriend. Gallner’s performance is solid, and while his character may make some questionable choices throughout, the actor is sure to maintain a strong presence on screen.

Lead actress Alix Angelis makes possession seem like an effortless task to portray. Angelis has previously been seen in films such as The Magnificent Seven and ECCO. What’s more impressive is that the young actress has also written and directed several short films, including You Die First. Angelis plays Lane, who is dating Drew and gets roped into acting on their show, only to become overcome by a powerful and demonic presence. Whether she’s playing Lane or the demon—or switching between the two—Angelis never loses sight of the characters and represents both smoothly.

The movie combines humor with horror in a way that doesn’t discount it being a chilling watch. While it contains gruesome imagery that will make your stomach turn, it also offers genuine laughter at all of the right moments. This is a hard feat to pull off as some scary movies that attempt to insert humor end up seeming cheesy or slapstick. This motion picture will have you both hiding behind your knees as well as chuckling every so often, all while not losing its edge.

Keep your eyes peeled for a small cameo from Glee’s Heather Morris. Morris also starred in the 2016 short, and fans of the short will be excited to see her once again involved. Furthermore, be sure to wait until the credits start rolling for more scary additions to the storyline in the form of faux newscasts.

If you’d like to check out The Cleansing Hour, it is available on demand, digital HD and DVD. The popular horror streaming service Shudder also has the flick available to its subscribers.

SCORE: ★★★

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Written by Kendall Tinston

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