THE CLEANSING HOUR **** USA 2019 Dir: Damien LeVeck. 94 mins
Although some of its noisier overt demon stuff gets a bit listless, here’s a genuinely fun, witty take on the familiar 21st century horror trope of the doomed documentary crew venturing into territory best left unexploited.
Ryan Guzman is well cast as Max, the host of an allegedly Vatican-approved, much-merchandised live webcast with staged exorcisms purporting to be the real deal. A narcissist prone to getting off his face and fucking whatever meagre groupies happen to throw themselves at him, he’s assisted by loyal pal Drew (Kyle Gallner) and Drew’s increasingly jaded fiancée Lane (Alix Angelis). While his collaborators start to ponder over pastures new, the show ends up unintentionally unleashing a real demon, one that hijacks Lane’s body and employs social media for suggestions of how Max should save her…while the host himself is stripped naked and forced to participate in a sadistic “Hokey Cokey”…
The set-up nods to various found footage horrors spawned from earlier post-BLAIR WITCH cash-ins like GRAVE ENCOUNTERS – and also echoes THE LAST EXORCISM’s conman facing real demons. It is, however, executed with panache: director Damien LeVeck cannily cuts away throughout to Max’s typical international audience, with viewers rapidly increasing as the shit genuinely hits the fan and kids relishing the images of real demon mayhem while their apathetic parents stare at their phones and ignore each other. The crude, convincing commentary from message board losers (“Pull a Harvey Weinstein!”) as the bonafide possession unravels and Max desperately tries to use the Bible rites of which he had previously made a mockery, is also a lovely touch.
The tonal shifts are adeptly handled, with a more serious streak typified by the flashback parallels to Max’s scarring, sadistic Roman Catholic school upbringing dovetailing surprisingly well with the finger-biting gore and wisecracking demons. The practical FX are well done, it’s slickly put together and, best of all, the ultimate twist ingeniously pays off with a return to the montages of the typical audience – and a wonderfully sour punchline that’s true to the nihilistic spirit of 70s occult cinema.
Review by Steven West