Outside of monster and supernatural movies, folk horror involving witchcraft is the runner up for one of my favorite genres of scary film. These stories are usually set in an amazing landscape with some dark secrets and always seem to tell an amazing story. Such is the case with THE CLEANSING - a new to streaming film written by David Shillitoe and directed by Antony Smith. While I'm sure some will compare it to the now infamous film The VVitch, allow me to reassure you that The Cleansing is an entirely different beast with its own brand of terror. The Cleansing will take you on a truly wicked journey of disgust, fear, hatred and retaliation; it's an epic storytelling that will grip you from the very beginning - and one that will leave you speechless upon its completion. While it may be a smaller indie horror, I won't hesitate to say that this movie has to be one of my favorites from the entire year. It pulled me in and spat me back out into this chaotic road of twists that most will not see coming (myself included). It'd be a shame to miss out on such a fine story, and what better time to watch such a wicked story unfold than right around now, the holiday time?!
The Cleansing tells the story of voluntary mute teenager Alice (played by Rebecca Acock) who is living in 14th century Wales; her village is being overtaken by the plague, with more and more losses each week, and Alice is accused of being the cause of the disease as the result of her witchcraft practice. After her infected mother is killed right before her eyes by The Cleanser, the town preacher and local perv Tom (played by Rhys Meredith) offers her protection from the angry villagers in return for her giving herself to him. She makes her disagreement overwhelmingly known, and he subjects her to five trials that will either prove or disprove her involvement in witchcraft and her allegiance to the devil. It is after her escape from death at the villagers hands that the movie really picks up as Alice meets a local healer who offers her help and safety from the crazed crowd. But is his help enough to save her from The Cleanser, who is out to bring her to her demise to prevent her further cursing of the land?!
I fucking love everything about The Cleansing: from the story and the people, to the location (which is actually shot in Wales) and the props used, everything about this movie is beyond stellar. As far as the story goes, it starts off much like the 1970 terror Mark of the Devil, if you've ever seen that; you'll find this cute young woman be blackmailed by a pastor who has his eyes on her, and when she denies his offer, he puts her through hellish torture to "prove" she's not a witch. In these scenes, you'll find yourself cringing and your angst building as the pastor eagerly looks on, hoping young Alice will crack and offer herself up to him. It's got five pretty gruesome tests that the villagers put Alice through, but this is only a fraction of what makes this movie so wild: the fun doesn't come until the end (but you'll have to see the film to know what I'm talking about!). But until you get to that point, The Cleansing takes a real quick 180 degree turn; once Alice escapes her tormentors and meets the healer (portrayed by Simon Pengelly), the movie mellows out real quick. There is a relatively uneventful - yet important - series of scenes where you'll almost forget you're watching a horror; I know I did. One might think the movie took a turn for the worse and that the terror was over, but allow me to assure you, the fun is only beginning. The Cleansing has this fucking sinister second half of the film that will plunge you into this incredible path of destruction that makes the rest of the time you put into the movie totally. fucking. worth it. It's definitely a dark movie with some dark tones - that's for sure.
Rebecca Acock absolutely slays her role as Alice - you'll find yourself rooting for her from start to finish, through all the chaos she's put through by the townspeople. Acock has this obviously natural innocent look to her, which made her a perfect cast for the role of a sweet, young woman forced into a shitty situation. And as her character progresses through the story, Acock just gets more and more fun to watch. The story that David Shillitoe put in place for Alice is nothing short of awesome, and we get out of Acock exactly what I would have hoped for. While the entire cast did a phenomenal job, it's Acock that totally steals the show with this one - a brilliant performance.
So If I haven't made it to totally obvious yet, The Cleansing is one of 2019's must-see indie horror films. Like I mentioned earlier, I'm sure it's going to get tons of comparisons to The VVitch, but besides the witchcraft theme and the gorgeous landscape, the two films are on entirely different playing fields, so don't even bother trying to compare the two. The Cleansing has way more action and substance to it, and it makes the movie such an epic watch. Even days later, I'm still reflecting on just how intense the first chunk of scenes are and how they shape the chaotic last half hour of the movie. At the time of writing this, the current rental price for on-demand streaming services is $6.99, which is a little steep for an indie horror, but honestly the price really is worth it as far as I'm concerned. Mind you, it's sometimes hard for me to justify a higher rental price for most films, but I was so entertained by this one, I feel my money was well spent. Loved the film, and will definitely be watching it again - I hope you do too!