Festivals

Courtesy of Shudder

{Panic Fest} Movie Review The Cleansing Hour

When I saw The Cleansing Hour as a short a couple of years ago at Panic Fest I was blown away by how polished and professional it was. It had A list actors, great practical effects, and it had something to say. It was a great combination and that unique combination is part of the reason it won best short at the festival. When writer/director Damien LeVeck announced the full length feature film based off of the short I was stoked to see what he could bring to the feature.

The story stays basically the same. A fraudulent exorcist and wanna be YouTuber Father Max (Ryan Guzman) has made a small name for himself by producing live exorcists he streams online. The exorcisms like his collar are not real. He seems to meet his demon match when enlisting the help of his best friend fellow producer Drew (Kyle Gallner) and his girlfriend Lane (Alix Angelis) in his latest attempt at reaching streaming stardom. Things go from bad to worse as Father Max loses control of his show and perhaps his soul.

LeVeck in a recent interview mentioned that over 80% of the effects were practical and the movie shines when it leans into this type of realism. As Lane becomes more and more possessed her makeup and facial prosthetic get more and more involved. The few times the movie uses CGI are less effective. While I dug the hell hound design I think almost everything looks better when its practical. The demon dogs are no different. The movie has some genuinely scary moments and the introduction of the old crone school teacher is creative and feels like it has some staying power. More time with her would have built some of that dread that only our childhood can provide. Do I smell spinoff?

Courtesy of Shudder

Guzman is believable as Father Max. He has a certain brashness and charm about him so that the audience has an easy time seeing him as that wannabe influencer. Kyle Gallner has a sweet Samwise Gamgee quality about him that makes their relationship believable but also prevents him from entirely taking the lead of the film. In some ways (probably intentional) the movie feels like there are two different leads both with solid performances but with fundamentally different messages.

Those messages are where things get interesting. The Cleansing Hour wants to have a discussion about how social media leads to destructive awful things. That message while entirely true is not that unique. From Cam, to Unfriended horror has explored that idea recently. Father Max wants that blue check mark (don’t we all) and is willing to sacrifice whomever in the process. Retweets, Likes, Favorites, Comments, and Subscribers are the only metrics that matter to him. Perhaps even more interesting are Kyle and Lane who completely ignore the consequences of their actions on social media and by the end of the film live entirely as if the consequences of their online lives have zero impact on the real world. Its a glaring look at the privilege of those that can pretend that disconnecting is enough, when in all reality its not.

LeVeck skewers both extremes and in the process is mostly successful in delivering a TikTok exorcism riff. Come for the practical effects, fun storytelling, and sharp production value but stay for the message that maybe there is valuable middle ground between the followers and the followed.

We saw The Cleansing Hour as part of Panic Fest. Check out all of our Panic Fest coverage here.

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