Late Night with the Devil (2024, dirs. Cameron & Colin Cairnes)

by | Mar 24, 2024

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 93 mins

UK Distributor: Vertigo Releasing

UK Release Date: 22 March 2024


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WHO’S IN LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL?

David Dastmalchian, Laura Gordon, Ian Bliss, Fayssal Bazzi, Ingrid Torelli, Rhys Auteri, Georgina Haig, Josh Quong Tart

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes (directors, writers, editors), David Dastmalchian, Derek Dauchy, Mat Govini, Roy Lee, John Molloy, Steven Schneider and Adam White (producers), Roscoe James Irwin and Glenn Richards (composers), Matthew Temple (cinematographer)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A Halloween-themed episode of a late-night talk show goes devilishly wrong…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL?

Though there are some genuinely spooky ones out there, found-footage horror movies are usually funnier (the unintentional kind) than they are truly scary. Trying to make sense of the logic behind ones like The Devil Inside, The Gallows or any one of the lesser Paranormal Activity sequels is already a hilarious exercise in nonsensical horror plotting, but when you start questioning why certain characters are even filming any of the creepy action in the first place, rather than doing what any other rational person would do and just run the hell out of there, it becomes maddening to the point of near-uncontrollable laughter.

One of the many clever things about Late Night with the Devil, from directors/writers/editors Cameron and Colin Cairnes, is that the comedy of the film’s otherwise found-footage bearings is embedded deep within its own personality. It’s not as though the film just becomes a straight-up comedy – far from it, for this is a pure horror, through and through – but with its setting and overall aesthetic, there is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek attitude as it’s delivering some rather creepy scares. It’s a perfect balance, and the film works incredibly well as an effective and entertaining horror where you don’t feel too guilty about laughing during.

The film is presented in the form of a TV documentary, with an opening montage providing all the necessary exposition about Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian), a late-night talk show host in the 1970s who, despite his natural on-screen charm and fun-filled variety show template, often trails in the ratings next to competitors like Johnny Carson. Most of the rest of the film is comprised of a recently-discovered master tape featuring the recording of a Halloween episode in 1977, when Delroy, in an attempt to drive up viewership, invited a number of intriguing guests onto the show: the powerful stage psychic Christou (Fayssal Bazzi), the renowned magician turned sceptic Carmichael the Conjurer (Ian Bliss), and most notably parapsychologist Dr. June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon) and the subject of her latest book, a young teenager named Lilly (Ingrid Torelli). The latter is of particular interest to Delroy, for she is the sole survivor of a Satanic church suicide and is said to have a demonic presence within her, which the host is keen to show his audience and the viewers at home – but his quest for infamy soon ends in total disaster for everyone, live on television.

It’s the most ambitious project yet for the Cairnes brothers, whose previous feature Scare Campaign similarly touched upon the frightening correlations between real-life horror and consumptive television entertainment, but in Late Night with the Devil, the Australian duo take that concept to entirely new levels. For one, they manage to capture the exact look and feel of a 70s-era talk show, down to the corny one-liners delivered during the topical monologue, the snazzy suits that the host and his guests lounge out in, and interviewees just lighting up cigars whilst on-air. The cinematography is excellent in this film, as it encapsulates the boxed-in aspect ratio that was the norm for live television back then, complete with sharp zoom-ins and fuzzy picture quality, while the set design makes everything in this studio look appropriately chic and entirely natural to the time period. It’s fun to watch this type of talk show era be so lovingly recreated, and goes to show that few late-night shows nowadays have as much charm or simplicity to them as they once did, or at least as portrayed in this film.

When the horror elements kick in, the momentum rarely missteps, as the Cairnes brothers bring between them a serious appetite for general freakiness to some unsettling sequences that do not hold back on their ferocity. The film’s centrepiece is a demonstration of young Lilly’s association with the so-called “Mr. Wriggles”, and through a combination of impressive effects (both practical and make-up), the Cairnes’ editing skills, and a deeply committed performance by Ingrid Torelli, the scene is as horrifying and intense as you may be picturing. Although, perhaps the most unsettling detail is the stern look that David Dastmalchian is giving in the background, as his character observes the demonstration with oddly sadistic intrigue as he’s surely thinking about what this is doing for the ratings of his show. The actor is truly great in this film, as he really makes the viewer feel his character’s morality slipping away in real time as his desperation for stardom, as well as the pressure to live up to the expectations of his audience in addition to those of his producers and sponsors, gradually overtakes his humanity. Dastmalchian also has a strong enough screen presence to accurately imitate the charismatic personality of a 70s talk show host, though of course here it’s taken to extreme levels once things get seriously weird and even shockingly violent.

On occasions, however, you will wish that the film remained completely committed to its found-footage concept. The illusion is often broken whenever the film cuts to black-and-white interludes set during the commercials, where a handheld camera follows Jack Delroy and several other crew members backstage of this talk show episode. There is certainly a reason for these scenes being there, as some vital information is relayed during them, but since the film is initially presented as this TV documentary with “never-before-seen” footage, it doesn’t always add up how the people that shot this supposed behind-the-scenes stuff also happened to capture some intimate, sometimes incriminating, conversations between characters without being caught or even noticed. It also transcends the concept for a climax that plays around a lot more with aspect ratios and feverish editing, and while it is effective and quite disturbing in places, once again you’re left unsure as to whether or not it would have been even more so had it stayed within its TV aesthetic, because then it would have felt as naturalistic as anything else captured here, and therefore much scarier.

I also want to address the severe backlash this film has received in recent days, due to the revelation that the filmmakers used AI to create the idents that bridge certain sections within the televised talk show, and it’s gotten to a point where some people are calling for an outright boycott of the film, even though the AI-generated content is only in the film for mere seconds. Personally, I feel this whole thing has been blown way out of proportion, because while I do agree that AI really shouldn’t be used in a creative environment, not to mention the fact that it is a shame that it’s taken away the opportunity from actual artists out there, at the end of the day it’s been used for something that doesn’t even make up a whole percent of what it otherwise a very strong film.

I will also give the filmmakers some leniency for the fact that the film was made back in 2022, long before AI even became a domineering presence in the news, as well as that it was produced on a fairly limited budget, which honestly makes a huge difference between a smaller independent film like this using AI and a much larger Hollywood blockbuster with millions to spare that still decides to cut corners and leave hard-working artists out.

It’s not a great practise either way, but I seriously feel that anyone calling for the film to be shunned and ignored because of such a small and insignificant contribution, in effect denying the hard work of many other human creatives who actually worked on the film, really needs to get off their soap box and take in the bigger picture. Seriously, how insecure are you about your own opinion on a film that you let just one tiny unethical detail cloud your overall judgement on something? There are plenty of ways to combat the threat of AI on the creative arts, but calling for the public shaming of an otherwise hugely entertaining film that happens to briefly use it is perhaps the most foolish way to come about it.

Though it takes one too many liberties with its structural concept, Late Night with the Devil is a lot of fun to watch, and one of the few found-footage horror movies where it feels like you’re actually supposed to laugh… until, of course, you’re not.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Late Night with the Devil is a devilishly entertaining horror that excellently captures the overall aesthetic of live 70s talk shows with a supernatural twist, which is conveyed through some engrossing (and occasionally gross) practical effects and a great lead turn by David Dastmalchian, both of which help the film overcome its loose commitment to the found-footage concept.

Four of of five stars

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