Is there anything more horrible than the internet? This is where the Zack Snyder fans live. Of course not.
Which is why I have a particular love for horror that uses the internet as part of its delivery system. ARGs and webseries have, for my money, rocked some of the best horror content of the last few years – but movies that incorporate the power of the internet, like Searching or Unfriended, have slowly been carving out a place in the genre for themselves, as well.
Which is exactly what The Cleansing Hour sets out to do. Following a semi-popular livestream channel which purports to show bonafide exorcisms, led by so-called “Father Max” (Ryan Guzman), a slick, fame-hungry con artist working alongside producer and childhood friend Drew (Kyle Gallner, who I imprinted on after seeing Jennifer’s Body for the first time and am still low-key obsessed with. He’s a great actor. Cast him in more stuff, film industry). But, during one particular livestream, things take a turn for the decidedly more real, and swiftly spiral violently out of control.
The best thing that The Cleansing Hour does, actually, has little to do with the internet, and everything to do with it’s two leads, Guzman and Gallner. I’ve been really into movies that have cultivated intimate relationships between men as their central focus (the brilliant They Look Like People being the standout in that), and this is one that really capitalizes on the deep chemistry between the two – the performances are both great, and they sell a depth of care, comfort, and even conflict between each other that deepens the stakes of this classic possession story. Too many films give in to the temptation to just stack on the gore and the scares (and, to be fair, The Cleansing Hour does really sell those too, with some great real effects), but if I don’t give a shit about the people they’re happening to, they’re just going to land flat on their face.
And, well, let’s be honest – possession films have always been a staple of the horror genre, but The Cleansing Room shifts things to a more voyeuristic tone with the introduction of the internet as a conduit. We, as viewers, are aligned with the slowly-climbing numbers of the people watching this horrific livestream, with the constantly-scrolling live comment stream filling up one corner of the screen. It’s a smart, simple idea, one that lends it an interesting mix of the claustrophobia of the studio set and the sprawl of the viewers across the world.
Tapping in to the immediacy of the internet brings this movie something fresh and modern, and, balanced with the solid central relationship, turns The Cleansing Hour into one of the best possession movies in recent memory – and a must-watch for this Halloween.
By Louise MacGregor
Header Image: YouTube