THE CLEANSING HOUR movie poster |©2021 RLJE Entertainment

THE CLEANSING HOUR movie poster |©2021 RLJE Entertainment

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Ryan Guzman, Kyle Gallner, Alix Angelis, Chris Lew Kum Hoi, Daniel Hoffman-Gill, Emma Holzer, Joanna David
Writers: Damien LeVeck & Aaron Horwitz, story by Aaron Horwitz
Director: Damien LeVeck
Distributor: RLJE Entertainment
Release Date: January 19, 2021

 THE CLEANSING HOUR is a well-conceived, well-executed horror movie about the perils of making misleading reality programming.

We tend to think of those dangers in terms of the effect on the audience. THE CLEANSING HOUR doesn’t ignore this, but its main focus is on “Father” Max Tyler (Ryan Guzman) and his lifelong best friend Drew (Kyle Gallner). The two produce a live streaming show, “The Cleansing Hour,” in which Father Mike performs exorcisms.

Of course, it’s all done with performers and low-budget special effects. Max isn’t even a real priest, although he and Drew attended Catholic school together. Max is in pursuit of a larger audience and a blue checkmark by his name. Drew just wants to uphold the partnership.

Drew’s fiancée, up-and-coming makeup artist Lane (Alix Angelis), thinks Max is less committed to the show, and to Drew, than he ought to be. Lane would like Drew to go in another direction, before Max betrays him. Drew is sure this will never happen, even though Max refuses to listen to any potential audience-broadening strategies that don’t involve his stardom.

And then, due to a supernatural attack that we see but the guys don’t, the next person scheduled to play a “possessed victim” is a no-show. Lane steps in to act the part. Everyone discovers, much to their grief, that if you fake enough exorcisms, you’re liable to wind up having to perform a real one.

Damien LeVeck, who directed, and fellow screenwriter Aaron Horwitz, working from Horwitz’s story, have crafted a script that gives their lead actors a lot to do. Guzman deftly takes Max from smug narcissism to terrified confusion and beyond. Gallner exudes quick wit, loyalty and love. Both actors deserve kudos for bravely performing bad karaoke together. Angelis excels in all aspects of her physically demanding role.

THE CLEANSING HOUR movie poster |©2021 RLJE Entertainment

THE CLEANSING HOUR movie poster |©2021 RLJE Entertainment

LeVeck’s editing is shrewd and fluid, and the skilled duo of Alec Gillis & Tom Woodruff are responsible for the creature effects.

There is one tonal misstep in terms of human relationships (not only is the specific issue a cliché, the timing is borderline preposterous). Also, so much is explained in terms of mythology that we wind up wishing for just a little more to anchor exactly how this is happening now.

Even so, THE CLEANSING HOUR is fairly clever. Despite the mostly confined setting, the filmmakers provide the sense of broad scope with their storytelling. It’s also one of the relatively rare exorcism films that neither denies nor demands Catholic belief. We keep wondering what’s going to happen next, and the answer is usually something wild enough to hold our attention.

THE CLEANSING HOUR is a worthy entry in both the exorcism and Internet subgenres.

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