Father Max (Ryan Guzman) isn’t what he seems. The exorcist with a weekly webstream fell from the church long ago, and every possession he claims to cleanse is a tightly scripted affair. Max and his partner Drew (Kyle Gallner) don’t feel like they’re scam artists, even though they, by every definition, are.
One would expect the audience to see through it: how many bearded, man-bun donning Catholic priests do you know? Do they ask you to follow them
on social? Are there enough possessions in the world to warrant a weekly webcast? Sometimes people just want to believe, and the grift worked until a demon decides to possess Drew’s fiancée Lane (Alix Angelis) during a performance. Its reason? Seemingly to force Father Max to reveal all his darkest secrets on air. Do it within an hour, and Lane will live.
As it turns out, things soon get even more complex than anyone could have predicted.
The Cleansing Hour is a stylish movie, filmed in greens desaturated enough to give it indie cred, yet not enough to replicate Ozark-like tropes. Flashbacks shift to grays, giving the film a coherent, cool vibe.
The special effects are also laudable. I cannot imagine the movie – a Shudder exclusive – having much of a budget, so seeing a possessed Lane convincingly manipulate environments – lights crash down, cords come alive – creates a surprisingly technically stylish movie.
And Alix Anglis, what a powerhouse performance. Her tied-up possessed self slithers around the chair in otherworldly movements with gleeful expressions when torturing Max. Now and again, Lane momentarily breaks through, and Anglis handles the shifts like she truly is two different people. It is a physical performance to take note of.
Bizarrely, she does not do her own voice work, with Tara Karsian dubbing the devilish dialogue. Why, I do not know, as it is jarring. Not that Karsian’s performance is bad, it just does not match up with Anglis’s lip motion, which takes away from her stellar physical work.
The rest of the cast does a serviceable job, and The Cleansing Hour moves quickly and entertainingly through most of its ninety-four minutes. I say
most, as the ending is iffy. Without giving anything away, the demon’s ultimate motivations feel nonsensically contrived – why would it need to torture Father Max for sixty minutes to achieve its actual goal? – and the last ten minutes feel divorced from the movie’s otherwise intimate scale.
The Cleansing Hour might be too small of production to find a place in the zeitgeist the way The Exorcist did, yet it has already developed a devoted niche fan-base. That’s deserved, and the movie’s flimsier aspects can be forgiven thanks to Anglis’s performance. The story is never dull either, and a final twist to the ending is admittedly clever.
Overall, then, The Cleansing Hour delivers the goods for any fan of the exorcism sub-genre, and even a casual viewer may find something to like. Was it not for the shift eighty minutes in, I would give it a hands-down recommendation. Still, if you already subscribe to Shudder, I see no reason not to watch The Cleansing Hour.