This welds together two overworked contemporary horror cinema themes — exorcism and internet paranormality – and finds interesting, effective things to do with them. Director Damien LeVeck – who co-wrote with Aaron Horwitz – did a first draft of this in a 2016 short film, but this nearly-realtime supernatural drama is a sustained, fully achieved piece. Father Max (Ryan Guzman), a bogus priest who looks like a stripper, has achieved small-scale celebrity by live-streaming staged exorcisms and hawking prayer cloths – which he autographs for groupies. He wouldn’t be able to get away with it if it weren’t for his lifelong pal Drew (Kyle Gallner), the tech whizz who puts together his possession scenarios – and, of course, ostentatious hypocrisy invites genuine supernatural nemesis (cf: The Last Exorcism) when the hired guest turn is waylaid by demonic forces and Drew has to recruit his actress fiancée Lane (Alix Angelis) to sit in, strapped to a chair, for an hour of livestreamed ranting and recitation.
Paraphenomena affects the studio and Max’s crew, and Lane shows every sign of being genuinely possessed (Tara Karsian voices the demon) and out to teach Max some harsh lessons … with perhaps a much larger agenda, as cameo cutaways show folk around the world getting hooked on the online drama in pointed little minidramas which will have potent payoffs (pay especial attention to the posh kid with the neglectful father). A few of the twists are expected, as the demon forces Max to humiliate himself – taking up viewer suggestions that he strip off, for instance – and cough up confessions of his own sins, which bring out cracks in his sole sustained relationship. In flashbacks, young Drew and Max are given a hard time by a Catholic schoolmarm played by barely-present British stalwart Joanna David (who’s been around since That Smashing Bird I Used to Know and has credits on everything from a TV Rebecca – playing the role her daughter Emilia Fox would take a generation later – to that 1984 Flipside horror oddity Sleepwalker).
Angelis, augmented by Karsian, really throws herself into the contortions and snarls of the role, evoking the double-jointed possessees of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Last Exorcism and The Devil Inside but with a nastily humorous attack. Given that the bulk of the action takes place on a single set, you subliminally expect minimalist effects but this pulls a few creature surprises, courtesy of veteran monster maker Tom Woodruff Jr (The Terminator, Aliens, Pumpkinhead). The climax involves an especially gloopy, physical transformation in a 1980s tradition – The Howling, The Thing, Demons, Evil Dead 2 – with sloughed-off skins, slimy horny demon heads and cowering spectators. Another casting oddity – Gallner was also in The Master Cleanse, the entirely unrelated movie this will inevitably get mixed up with.