INTERVIEW: Possession Films and ‘The Cleansing Hour’ Director Damien LeVeck

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Damien LeVeck

The Cleansing Hour, directed by Damien LeVeck, premiered at Fantastic Fest 2019 as one of the first midnight screenings of the festival, this possession horror flick brought loads of practical effects, beautiful creature design, and some perfectly gross body horror which helped it stand above other possession films. That said, The Cleansing Hour also offers up a unique premise as we follow two friends, Drew (Kyle Gallner) and Max (Ryan Guzman), who run a webcast that streams live exorcisms that are not in fact real. Well, until their lastest possession turns out to be the real deal when Drew’s girlfriend Lane (Alix Angelis) gets taken by an unnamed force. What follows is an exploration of trauma in the social media era and a larger critique of how we interact with people behind the camera.

While at Fantastic Fest, I got the chance to sit down with the director of The Cleansing Hour Damien LeVeck. In this conversation, we discussed creature design and the use of practical effects for the vast majority of the film’s most shocking moments. When explaining the choice to embrace practical, LeVeck explained that he wanted to avoid the trappings of other possession films,  leaning on the acting and physicality of Angelis as Lane. As LeVeck went into details on how he prepped effects, he explained that even the voice of possessed Lane worked differently than the lowered voices we’re used to hearing from possessed characters. This is because the voice is created from layering Tara Karsian‘s voice with Angelis’ to showcase different levels of possession.

Damien LeVeck

Now, The Cleansing Hour isn’t 100% practical. That said, LeVeck broke down the creature design from the most CGI in the film: the imps. LeVeck explained the process of creating the little hellhoundesque imps which show up to torment Max, Drew, and the rest of their crew. Explaining how they started as humans and had their features exaggerated, LeVeck dove into the nitty-gritty of creature design.

One of the other things that set The Cleansing Hour apart is its diverse cast of characters and actors. By showcasing a worldwide audience, the film was able to show a diverse range of media consumption. But beyond that, the main cast is diverse as well, featuring Guzman in the lead role as Father Max. While this may not seem important to some, it was important to LeVeck. Plus, as a horror fan and Mexican American critic who is well aware that despite making up 18% of the population of the United States, we only make up 4.5% of on-screen roles in the highest-grossing films of 2018, it was important to me. In a genre that has seen more diverse faces in lead roles, Latinx representation has remained stagnant even as Latin American movies get more spotlight, US-born Latinx remain invisible.

During our interview, LeVeck explained how he worked with Homeboy Industries, a non-profit whose goal is to provide hope, training, and support to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women, to cast Los Angeles locations. It was refreshing to learn that LeVeck thought about these things and how he went about acting on it.

But wait, there is definitely more to hear, so hit play on this interview to hear more from Damien LeVeck and learn about The Cleansing Hour.

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