Girl sitting in chair with man and woman standing next to her.

Film Review: Late Night with the Devil


Late Night With the Devil
Directors: Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes

IFC Films, Shudder, Image Nation
In Theaters: 3.22

What price are you willing to pay for fame, to give your ego the ultimate stroke of its life? Your soul? How about your wife’s life? Or maybe, the collapse of your late-night empire? Cameron and Colin Cairnes (Scare Campaign) ask these questions and then some in their latest joint produced by IFC Films and Shudder, Late Night With the Devil. 

Now, there’s a lot going on with this movie, and I’m not just talking about the plot (we’ll get to that in a minute). There’s a lot of controversy about the use of AI for three stills used in the film. Now, I understand these concerns as they were a fiery hot topic during the recent Writers Guild of America strike. I agree with the rest of you: fuck AI and fuck any company replacing any employee with it. That being said, I feel like we may be blowing this issue way out of proportion. They’re insignificant interstitials that you forget as soon as they’re off-screen, an experiment that the Cairnes’ art department, as explained in quotes all over the internet, wanted to try during the production and were heavily edited in the final cut. No one was replaced or fired. It was a group of artists experimenting. While it too makes me wary, it’s no reason to entirely write off a film you can tell real artists poured their time and energy into. Okay, can I get to the review now? 

Starring the devilishly talented David Dastmalchian (The Dark Knight), who snaps his spine in two carrying the film during its hour and 33 minute run time, as the host of a 1970s New York variety and late-night talk show, Night Owls with Jack Delroy, put together by the fictional UBC Studios to compete with the then-night show king, Johnny Carson. Jack’s a man that has it all. Cushy contract, a beautiful stage actress wife played by Georgina Haig (Archive 81), and he’s even a member of the elusive club (cult) for powerful (white) men of the ‘70s called The Grove. All the while, his show’s ratings continue to climb, yet can never quite beat that damned Carson. Things take a sharp turn for the worse when Jack loses his wife to lung cancer and takes a month off. When he comes back, ratings aren’t the same.

In a last-ditch effort to get his ratings back and finally take the late night throne, Jack and producer Leo (Josh Quong Tart, Around the Block) orchestrate a Halloween spookshow special where they’ll interview a medium (Fayssal Bazzi, Peter Rabbit), a former magician turned infamous skeptic and debunker (Ian Bliss, Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears) and a Parapsychologist (Laura Gordon, Streamline) who claims to have a young girl possessed by the demon worshiped by a cult she was raised in. Did I mention earlier that there’s a lot going on?

On all technical terms, this flick has so much going for it. Shot in an entrapped 4:3 format with a delicious VHS fuzz and staged as a documentary about a lost TV episode (you could technically classify this as a found footage film), we get to see the actual footage from that night interspersed with black-and-white, “behind-the-scenes” footage in between commercial breaks. Some will argue this ruins the immersion, but I was fully immersed up until the last 30 minutes when the aspect ratio reverts to 16:9 for a certain effect. The writing—and I’m just going to be frank here—is interestingly refreshing for a genre and aesthetic that feels tired, right up until the last 30 minutes. It’s become a more common recurrence in a lot of modern day horror. With so much going on plot-wise and so many implications or nods given here and there, it feels as though they’re never totally followed up on or taken to the places they should’ve gone.

That all being said, this is one hell of a ride, with performances that will be staples for each cast member (I can’t quit you, Dastmalchian), a demonically dark and satirical look at the dark side of ‘70s late-night television (I know you nerds have seen those old creepy talk show clips on your midnight YouTube rabbit holes), Satanic panic and the culture of media exploitation—the kind of stuff that crept into the hearts of our televisions and living rooms that never really left. While it doesn’t exorcize all of its demons, Late Night With the Devil will possess you long after it receives its final rites. Don’t touch that set, folks!  –Yonni Uribe

Read more recent film reviews here:
Film Review: Shirley
Film Review: Sleeping Dogs