Wednesday 29 January 2020

The Cleansing Hour (USA 2019: Dir Damien LeVeck)

The horror movie genre is generally pretty unkind and morally censorious when it comes to practitioners of social media meddling with the unknown, whether it's the ill starred modern day Ouija dabblers of the Friend Request or Unfriended movies, or the haunted vlogger of last year's Deadcon.

The Cleansing Hour is no exception. Father Max (Ryan Guzman) is a - sort of - actual priest who performs live streaming exorcisms on his channel 'The Cleansing Hour,' and as we meet him Max is doing just that, in real time, in front of his thousands of worldwide followers. Except that it's all fake: the subject of the exorcism is an actor and the whole thing is rigged up for maximum ratings and to take viewers to the merch page. "Better than Netflix any day" is one of the constant stream of (often very funny) comments that scroll down the screen during programme transmission.

But Max has a problem: with little time remaining until his next broadcast, his exorcism actor has taken a powder. So at the last minute show producer Drew (Kyle Gallner) convinces his fiancee Lane (Alix Angelis) to step in as 'Sabrina.' Lane agrees on the basis that Drew upgrades the quality of their intended honeymoon destination, and straps herself into the set's exorcism chair as 'Sabrina' to prepare for her performance. And she's really good - no REALLY good, mainly because Lane actually becomes possessed - by a demon later identified as Aamon (via a bit of sleuthing utilising on line demon identification software) - and the possessor of her body is hell bent on taking over the show and exposing Max for the fraud he truly is.

The Cleansing Hour was developed from a short film of the same name by LeVeck back in 2016, but unlike some feature adaptations of shorts, this feels like a fully rounded film: it's not subtle, but it's inventive, and while the script could be smarter, Lane, as the demon, gets the best lines: "You fight with the bull, you eventually get the horns!" she offers up at one point. The movie scores a double whammy in its send up of internet culture - surely a bit of a shooting-fish-in-a-barrel choice which will date incredibly quickly - and lampooning fake psychics: Max is to all intents and purposes a cinematic update of those dodgy holy roller healers from any number of 'dustbowl' movies.

Aamon's ruse to get Max to confess his confidence trick live on air feels like a rather prosaic outcome for a demon who could have the world at their feet, and of course it does mask its true ambition. But it's fun watching the technical team get theirs via hallucinations and set malfunctions, and the struggle with Lane for the occupation of her body and soul. The one room set doesn't feel limiting and there's a good mix of practical and CGI effects on hand - particularly in the gloopy final stages - when things threaten to get a bit too talky. Not brilliant - and certainly not particularly original - but quite fun while it lasts.

The Cleansing Hour screens at Glasgow FrightFest on Friday 6th March 2020.

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