GORE IN THE STORE
THE CLEANSING HOUR ***
Directed by Damian LeVeck.
Starring Kyle Gassner, Ryan Guzman, Alix Angelis.
Horror, U.S., 94 minutes.
Reviewed as part of the Arrow Video FrightFest, Glasgow.
Expanded from his short film, writer and director Damian LeVeck takes a satirical aim at social media by combining it with the well worn tropes of demonic possession movies. THE CLEANSING HOUR works on a certain number of levels and fails to do so on others.
Wasting no time the film kicks off with an exorcism in a darkened room. Immediately we are treated to all the cliches we have seen dozens of times before: bursts of flame erupting from candles, rattling furniture and a convulsing victim strapped to a bed spewing both black bile and curses in an ancient tongue. The difference this time however is that it is being broadcast live as part of a webcast called THE CLEANSING HOUR. Once the demon has been banished and the lights come up, the hunky Father Max, Guzman, implores the viewers to keep watching, follow on the social streams and most importantly buy the official merchandise that comes with the seal of approval of the Vatican. It is only then once the feed has been cut that the stage hands come out and the actors are thanked for their convincing performances, including the “possessed.”
Directed by Max’s childhood friend Drew, Gallner, the webcast seems to be stalling. Max is more interested in scoring with starstruck groupies, gaining online likes and that ever elusive blue tick on Twitter. Whilst Drew is ready to jump ship with the help of his fiancee Lane, Angelis. When Lane is drafted in at the last minute to stand in for the next episode as a possession victim, events soon take a turn as it becomes apparent that a real demon has stepped into the body of Lane, right in front of an ever increasing audience.
THE CLEANSING HOUR packs a lot into its ninety minute running time. The storyline of a strained and dying friendship is given as much time as the side stories of the various viewers watching the demonic events unfolding across the world on their phones. Sadly the former is far more effective than the latter. With myself at least, the jokes came across as forced and far too broad. Father Max is an annoying character, although he is meant to be and is given sufficient reason for being so.
The more sympathetic Drew makes for a far more sympathetic protagonist put in a unique position, dealing with demonic attacks and malfunctioning equipment, struggling to keep broadcasting. It is here that the film works much more successfully. As a straight ahead horror it proves very effective. For a low budget film there are an impressive number of creatures and demons, varied in design and creepily effective. The body count increases in an often surprising manner and leads onto a clever climax.
If confined to the studio THE CLEANSING HOUR could have proved an effectively claustrophobic riff on possession movies, like a transatlantic update on the BBC’S infamous GHOSTWATCH. However the broad jokes about social media immediately date the film and the thinly sketched viewer characters serve no real purpose, until the end at least, as to provide visual reactions to the ongoing events. One scene involving a transsexual extra for the show for instance is completely pointless and could be trimmed without making a difference to the films storyline.
With this debut feature LeVeck proves himself more than capable as a straight ahead horror director. The film's tone has a sharp and refreshingly nasty edge to it and it is hard to fault his ambition. Perhaps with his next feature he will forego the comedy and concentrate on the scares. It could make for something very promising indeed.