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'Late Night With The Devil' review: Having a hell of a time slot with David Dastmalchian

David Dastmalchian leaning on an old camera in a TV studio
IFC Films

Put the kids to bed and tune in to discover something shocking, and I don't mean the cursed screener site that thankfully won't impact most people's experience. What you will discover instead is Late Night With The Devil, a supernatural horror presented in a found footage format with some retro twists. Written, directed and edited by Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes, the story revolves around a long-lost Halloween episode of the 1970s late night show 'Night Owls With Jack Delroy' and its titular host (played by David Dastmalchian) who planned this shocking episode in order to outdo his rival shows. The night's quests include medium Christou (Fayssal Bazzi), sceptic Carmichael Haig (Ian Bliss), as well as author June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon) and her book's subject Lilly (Ingrid Torelli), a teenage girl who's the sole survivor of a religious cult's mass suicide and who's showing signs of demonic possession.

Since we're dealing with horror, Halloween, demons and whatnot, it's obviously not surprising that things go very, very wrong for Jack and everyone else involved in the show. But it is the what and how that come as pleasant surprises as the Cairnes have found a lot of excellent puzzle pieces that fit together extremely well, starting with the story and specifically how the film commits to the bit. You can read into this being a story about selling one's soul to the devil for your 15 minutes—or 15 years even—of fame in the quite literal spotlight but the movie also works on a pure entertainment level. Otello Stolfo's detailed production design, Stephanie Hooke's modish costumes and the framing device of a real-time show with realistic camera work serve the story flawlessly, involving you as a viewer in the broadcast that captures something that you simply have to see in order to believe it.

In that aforementioned spotlight, however, is Dastmalchian who gets the chance to apply all his strengths that he has honed as a reliable character actor. This is a beautiful marriage of a perfectly cast star and their complex character who goes through a hellish, transformative arc in just 90 minutes. Dastmalchian thrives in that portrayal, displaying Jack's desperation, misgivings and fright with precision throughout. It also helps that the entire cast is giving him a lot to reflect on, including Torelli with the possession scenes when the demons come out to play, or Rhys Auteri who is there to provide some levity as Jack's sidekick Gus McConnell.

But you must be dying to hear about the horror too, right? While none of it reaches the traumatising, ghoulish levels of Jimmy Fallon's fake laugh that haunts our current TV screens, the Cairnes' already strong direction becomes even more effective once the film begins to add panic into the mix. The ramp-up of tension and body horror jolts that happen during the actual show are impressively visualised and they don't rely on cheap tricks even if sceptics would like to believe so. Despite some unintended irregularities that happened during my screening experience (which might fit the ''uncovered tapes'' aura), the resourcefulness concerning both the practical—such as Marie Princi and Russell Sharp's makeup work—and digital visual effects is noticeable and admirable.

That ramp-up in terms of horror elements goes hand in hand with the film's overall arrangement, which is built on a crescendo that is pretty much the only thing that the filmmakers don't control as well as they want. The backstage drama during the ad breaks is oddly shot by DoP Matthew Temple as it makes you think about the camera and the perspective, which then pulls you out of the story when you're supposed to be on a ride with it. The last 20 minutes also do that because the madness never really peaks like it should; instead there are some surreal left turns that aren't nearly as interesting. But again, these speed bumps might be less intrusive when you have a chance to be more locked in with what's going on with Jack. What's good news is that the film definitely earns an inevitable rewatch with its devilishly enjoyable vibes.

Smileys: Story, David Dastmalchian, directing, makeup

Frowneys: Some issues with ending and cinematography

Who needs a funny opening monologue when the onslaught of company logos earns laughs before the show even begins?


[Editor's note, March 21, 2024: It has been confirmed by the filmmakers that the film used AI to create some of the graphics, which is something that After Misery opposes as the technology is inherently flawed. The use of AI is highly unethical as it stands.

We'd like to advise

1. the filmmakers not to use this unethical technology, which will only taint your project's reputation and make you look like dorks. Pay an artist to do the job or give it your best shot yourself. Creativity over everything else.

2. the companies producing and releasing these projects to disclose the use of AI to the press and audiences, and/or replace it altogether immediately when they acquire the project.

3. the audience members to make an informed decision on whether they want to support the project financially or not due to this unfortunate situation.]

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