LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL is a Refreshingly Intriguing Spin on Found Footage

Writer’s Note: Given Late Night with the Devil was premiered a year ago, months before the writer’s strike, the industry had yet to have the conversations that have informed current opinions on the topic of generative AI. I think the inclusion of 20 seconds of generative AI artwork should be a non issue for this particular title, given its production timeline, budget and use. While we now know how these models were trained, back then we did not. Also, if you’re choosing to ignore the title that’s fine, just please don’t simply use this as an excuse to pirate the title, because that’s terrible. 

Now for the review:

As a horror fan, the hype around Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes’ Late Night with the Devil has been hard to ignore, after terrifying audiences last year at SXSW. The film, which is finally hitting theaters tomorrow, before going to VOD, is an interesting take on found footage horror by way of the WNUF Halloween Special, but channeled through Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy. The plot however, feels like a mix of The Exorcist (1973) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968) in how it tackles the presentation of a lost and fully uncut master tape of an infamous 1977 Halloween sweeps week episode of Night Owls with Jack Delroy, a fictitious late night talk/variety show hosted by Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian). This footage is intercut with backstage footage, and assembled and presented here as a quasi documentary. 

Utilizing a premise any fan of 70s/80s variety shows should be familiar with, this particular episode has our host bringing on various guests who deal in the supernatural phenomena to hopefully prove themselves beyond an unquestionable doubt to win a $100,000 prize. This of course is put up by an ex-magician turned pro-skeptic curmudgeon, Carmichael the Conjurer (Ian Bliss). One of those guests purporting otherworldly gifts is Dr. June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon), author of the book Conversations With the Devil. She’s brought along the subject of said book Lilly (Ingrid Torelli), the young survivor of a Satanic church’s mass suicide. In a ratings stunt Jack Delroy has the pair prove their supernatural bonafides, by conjuring a demon on live television to hopefully save his show from a ratings slump. 

Late Night with the Devil primarily works thanks to its lead David Dastmalchian, who litters his take on the charismatic talk show host with startling flickers of ambition, mourning and ultimately fear. It’s a multifaceted and downright masterful performance that has him literally changing characters as he goes from commercial breaks, to hosting duties, to real life, letting the audiences see his mask constantly slip only to be constantly readjusted. Emotionally during this one hour show, Jack is all over the place, and Dastmalchian makes sure to never lose the audience for a second in this journey. This along with Ian Bliss’ loathful skeptic, who really does his best to get under the audience’s skin, really sets the stage and locks us as an audience in for the third act summoning, where the show literally goes to Hell. 

The thing about Late Night that really resonated with me as a child of the 80s, was the timing of the events of the film in relation to the Satanic Panic, which was only three short years away with the 1980 publication of the book Michelle Remembers. This was a real book about a woman who survived life in a fictional Satanic cult, that would be used to throw the country in a frenzied fear that the devil, who could be lurking behind every corner to snatch your children. To fully grasp this rather bleak chapter in American history, and the chokehold it had on our society, you should really check out the excellent doc Satan Wants You, that perfectly compliments Late Night and breaks down the context and origin of the panic along with its fallout. But Late Night perfectly mirrors that grim period, while also posing the question, just what if it was real?

Late Night with the Devil is a refreshingly intriguing spin on the found footage sub-genre, that thanks to the performances and production stands out as a shining example of what’s still possible with the right idea. The term found footage nearly does the film a disservice because of not only how the performances, but how all these pieces of “lost” media documenting that night mingle and ultimately coalesce in that final act offering something much more satisfying and profound than you’d normally expect from the genre. This all while still leaving the door open for some rumination on the themes and metaphors used throughout the film to tell the story of one man’s bleak Faustian bargain. Just when you think there’s nothing left in the found footage space to do, something like Late Night with the Devil comes along to resurrect the possibilities once again. 

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