By DAKOTA DAHL
Not too long ago, there was a lot of buzz about a Shudder original film called THE CLEANSING HOUR. Because I’m easily manipulated by peer pressure, I checked out the film almost as soon as it hit Shudder, and was immediately blown away. Too often I’ve been swayed into checking out a trend only to be disappointed (looking at you, bath salts.) Luckily, this was not the case, and now THE CLEANSING HOUR is escaping Shudder and jumping onto VOD, digital and DVD. Even more lucky, the unhinged architect of the film, Damien LeVeck, was kind enough to answer some questions for me about the film.
Major Spoilers will follow, consider yourselves warned.
What was more difficult being a writer, director, or editor for THE CLEANSING HOUR?
They all kind of work together, to be honest with you. The most difficult part is, I suppose, just directing, because you’re on the ground and you have to make a thousand decisions a day and you have to adapt to new challenges every day. It’s like leading an army. At least when you’re editing the movie or you’re writing the movie, you can be in the comfort of your office and not have the pressure from the day to day. Of making the day, the money running out, and everything like that, so I guess directing is the most challenging part of it. You also are in charge of how the finished product looks, so I would say directing.
Was I detecting a small criticism of clearly staged paranormal shows, and if so, would you like to expand on that?
It’s funny, I’ve worked a lot in unscripted television, more commonly known as “reality tv.” I’ve had the opportunity to work on paranormal shows before, I’ve never done it, but I know those shows are made in the editing because it’s all a bunch of poppycock. It’s not real and most reality tv isn’t real, at least to some degree. I’m not saying haunted houses aren’t a real thing, in fact I think that they are, but we live in an entertainment driven culture and the power of editing is very powerful. It’s the power to influence people and I think it’s very important to be self aware of the media that you’re consuming and the way that it’s influencing you. This goes from everything from the commercials that you watch to the news that you watch to the shows that you watch. It all influences you and has a worldview and changes you in a particular way. If you’re watching wone of those paranormal shows and you think what you’re watching is real, you might want to hit the pause button real quick and think about that. Jean-Luc Godard said, “life is real, every cut is a lie.” It’s so true. Every time you cut the camera you’re lying to your audience. (EDITORS NOTE: the actual quote from Godard is “Film is truth 24 times a second, and every cut is a lie”)
What are some of your horror influences?
Horror influences? Sam Raimi, William Friedkin, who directed The Exorcist, is extremely influential, Scott Derrickson, Mike Flanagan, Joseph Campbell, and his writings are very influential as well, but in terms of filmmakers, Scott Derrickson is terrific. James Wan has been a huge influence on me, Leigh Whannell.
How do you think we can see any of those influences in THE CLEANSING HOUR?
There’s a lot of them! I think, especially with the practical effects and some of the camera work, I draw a lot from Sam Raimi, from Evil Dead, that’s a real big one. And as far as the Exorcist is concerned, it almost feels like a cop out to say that is my favorite exorcism movie, but it truly is. The tropes, the contentions that we are used to seeing in exorcism movies today are there because of that movie in so many ways. So look at the possession makeup, listen to the demonic voice, all of that I really drew specifically from The Exorcist. But I was also trying to do something different from The Exorcist in terms of the possession makeup, and sound of the voice and the sort of things the possessed girl does. I wanted it to be unique. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but also trying to do something different at the same time. So mad props to that movie, you can definitely see its influences in THE CLEANSING HOUR.
The film also delivered some of my favorite creature designs of the year.
Oh yeah, which one?
The one that shows up at the end. I don’t want to give away too much in the interview.
Thank you. I’m really proud of the practical effects, I wanted to use more practical effects in the movie, frankly. There have been a lot of people who have mistaken that creature at the end for being a CG monster, which it is not. It is 98% practical, the only thing that we really did was we enhanced the eyes and the mouth. Otherwise, all of it is practical and I think it is just a testament to the quality of well-done practical effects, which can really fool the eye. I would’ve done more if we could’ve. I wanted to do the little demons, the little imp creatures, practically as well but we didn’t have time for it. Thank you, also, for the compliment about the design, we spent a lot of time working on that and I wanted to make a monster that didn’t look cheesy. I wanted it to look truly frightening like something you would see in a nightmare, with the black skin with the orange lava sort of cracking out of it and everything. It needed to look truly terrifying, like this is what The Prince of Darkness actually looks like.
THE CLEANSING HOUR has one of the most memorable twist endings in recent memory. Any plan on a follow up, exploring the aftermath?
Nothing currently imminent but there has been a lot of talk about it. A potential sequel movie or even a series that chronicle the aftermath of THE CLEANSING HOUR and how you fix it. How these guys have to deal with the consequences of what they’ve unleashed in the world.
I’d certainly watch it.
I have another project that’s in the works, that I’m optimistic we will be filming within the year. It’s called Good Luck, Nightingale. It’s a contained creature horror. If you love the creature at the end of THE CLEANSING HOUR you’re going to die when you see the creature in Good Luck, Nightingale. It is a twisted, morphed, disgusting and terrifying humanoid monster. You’re going to die when you see this. The movie is about this mother who gets snowed in during a blizzard at Christmastime, and she’s keeping her daughter shot up with methadone, with a fever, locked behind a cage in her bedroom. She thinks that if her daughter gets above or below this fever then she turns into this monster. These two kids break in looking for shelter from this freezing cold, and they discover very quickly that the mom and the daughter are not who they seem, and that they are not in this house alone. This movie has seriously one of the most mind blowing and darkest, twisted endings that you’ve seen since The Sixth Sense. When it happens, you’re like “Oh my god, how did I not see this all along!?” and you’ll want to go back and watch the movie all over again to see all the easter eggs. I’m truly, truly excited about it. It’s a contained movie, you know, very COVID friendly, which is very lucky for us. It’s going to have 100% practical effects, no CG at all.
I’m super jazzed to see it.
I hope that everyone is. I’m very excited about it, we are pitching it now. I went and shot a very small little teaser trailer for it, a proof of concept for it is up on my Vimeo page if anyone wants to check it out and get excited about it. It’s small, the movie itself is much, much bigger, but it gives you a sense for what this movie will be.
How do you decide what to keep, what to change and what to add from the original 2016 short that THE CLEANSING HOUR is based on?
The 2016 short, which will be on the DVD for anybody who wants to see it, the overall plot is the same and the ending is the same, but whenever you expand an 18-minute short into a 90-minute feature, you have a lot more time and a lot more room to expand the characters and their relationship with one another. That was where a lot of the focus went. Also, I felt like we really needed to raise the stakes by making the girl in the chair someone we care about, so Lane (Alix Angelis) is Drew’s (Kyle Gallner) fiancé, and that’s not how it was in the short film. Visually I think it changed quite a lot too, I had a much more specific idea for what I wanted in the feature, how it looks and feels, compared to the short. Ultimately, I’m very pleased with those decisions because the feature has a totally different feel and a very uneasy feel to it, and I think it works out pretty well. But that’s one of the benefits of making a short as a proof of concept, it can prepare you for whatever challenges you may face when you make the feature film, but it can also be a sort of testing ground for what you want to pull off in the feature film, visually.
My usual last question is usually about any future projects you might have. You already told us about one, are there any more you want to talk about?
I’m working on a haunted house movie right now. It’s kind of The Conjuring meets Midsommar. It’s set in the rural Irish countryside, it blends in Irish folklore, a very scary house, and a very creepy town. And then I’ve got another one that’s on deck after that, it’s a sort of time travel horror.