Well then, this was quite the treat.
Hearing about all the recognition being paid to Damien Leveck and Aaron Horwitz's 18 minute short horror film The Cleansing Hour, certainly piqued our interest. Considering Leveck's extensive background working as not only an editor, but a writer, producer, (and now director) as well, not to mention Aaron Horwitz's deep passion for writing - it was needless to say we had certain expectations coming into this, their foray into the realm of horror. After all, how could we possibly turn down the opportunity to review a short film played by a talented cast featuring a collectively extensive (and impressive) resume, with a premise such as this:
Father Lance and Drew host and run a popular webcast premised around the disturbing yet captivating practice of exorcism, staged in such a way that authenticity is never questioned. It seems business as usual with their latest episode, but when the would-be possessed actress puts on the performance of a life time, Lance and Drew get much more than they bargained for - an exhausting, violent battle against evil - with the souls of the show's 20 million viewers, hanging in the balance.
Soon as the short begins, It's immediately clear which aspects of production a lot of the care and focus went into. Aesthetics, lighting, and scene composition - the cinematography is sound. Visually, this looks like an expensive production - the kind you'd expect to see on popular mainstream television. The sound stage, balance and audio design also received the same level attention, allowing for the cast to come through loud and clear (with the more horrifying moments landing much more effectively as a result). Quite honestly, it was refreshing to see a smaller budget endeavor not noticeably affected by that particular limitation.
This same level of polish extends to the performances as well, with Sam Jaeger delivering a sardonic overly enthusiastic douche-y performance - reminiscent of Bruce Campbell's Ash in the Evil Dead series - as the impostor holy man, Father Lance. And much like the referenced demon-slaying one-armed anti-hero, our savior priest's personality eventually grows on you. Of course, an anti-hero is only as good as the challenges - put forth by his foes - allow him to be. Heather Morris (Heather) unleashes fiery hell in her horrifically exuberant portrayal of a doe-eyed starlet turned demon possessed, with the contrast in personalities serving to compound the effect of the transformation. The rest of the cast do a great job in their supporting roles; Neil Grayston's "Drew" plays a wonderfully agitated, twitchy director while Joonho Huh and Wanhi Lee bring a little levity to the film as officer Sun and officer Baek respectively.
The actual battle against the forces of hell are where all of The Cleansing Hour production strengths really shine. Everything comes together to bring us an exhilarating, terrifying exorcism decorated with all the trimmings and dressings we as horror fans have come to expect from such an encounter (though the somewhat inappropriate action-movie-sounding score does more to take away from the moment, then add to it). Meanwhile, there's subtextual commentary as well, regarding society's sick fascination with train-wrecks, and our inability to break free from the embryonic attachment to social media and the internet in general; we feed off the misery of others, as it were.
Oh, and for fans of Dario Argento's Demons series, you're absolutely going to love the ending nod (intentional or not), to those films.
Now, as well as The Cleansing Hour works just as a stand alone piece, the whole project feels like a proof-of-concept for something grander, and in fact, these 18 minutes seem like it could function as a prologue of sorts to a series built around this film's premise (I know I'd pay to watch something like it) - you half expect the title card to emphatically slam onto the screen just as the shit hits the fan. Again, this speaks to just how well this cast and crew work together, and it'd be a crime to not see this initial attempt work out as a sort of launchpad for a more ambitious project - this team has certainly convinced me they're capable of it.