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Review: LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL Channels 70s Retro Horror

A man and woman sit near a young girl who is in calm distress
Ingrid Torelli, David Dastmalchian, and Laura Gordon in Colin Cairnes and Cameron Cairnes ’ LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL. C ourtesy of IFC Films and Shudder. An IFC Films and Shudder release.

By Shannon McGrew

Note: Before diving into the review, I felt it was essential to address the issue of AI utilization in this film. Learning that AI was involved initially gave me pause, and I questioned writing this review due to my beliefs surrounding the use of AI artwork. Regardless of whether this film operated on a minimal budget, it's crucial to acknowledge how easy it would have been to hire an artist, especially one within the horror community, to craft the artwork. While I understand that this project predates the widespread discourse on AI, it's essential to recognize the significance of the decision to incorporate it and keep it after its post-festival run. Moving forward, it's of utmost importance that directors and producers prioritize transparency regarding the use of AI in their creative processes.

The 70s were a thriving time for late-night talk shows. With only a few channels to choose from, talk shows were used to captivate audiences through the host's charisma and their guests' allure. Set against the backdrop of the late 1970s, LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL, written/directed by Colin and Cameron Cairnes, taps into the cultural phenomenon of late-night television. However, instead of showcasing the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL delves into the darker consequences of toying with the unknown.

Set on Halloween night in 1977, LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL follows Jack Delroy, a talk show host reeling from the recent loss of his wife. Desperate to boost his ratings and surpass his rival, Johnny Carson, Delroy sees the Halloween episode as his chance to shine. To make it unforgettable, he invites several guests with connections to the supernatural. However, as the night progresses in real-time, Delroy begins to sense something is amiss. Caught between his ambition for high ratings and his moral compass, Delroy continues the show, unaware of the sinister forces he's unwittingly unleashed upon his unsuspecting audience.

The film stars David Dastmalchian, who delivers a standout performance as Jack Delroy, the charismatic host of "Night Owls." Dastmalchian effortlessly embodies the role, drawing viewers into Delroy's world with his congeniality and engaging presence. Even when things begin to go sideways, Dastmalchian's Delroy has a calming presence that helps to set the audience at ease. That said, when we see Delroy off-screen, we are presented with a disingenuous side to him, where he's willing to do whatever it takes to get the ratings he needs.

Ingrid Torelli plays Lilly, a young girl who's the subject of the controversial book "Conversations With the Devil" by parapsychologist June Ross-Mitchell (played by Laura Gordon). Torelli's ability to stare directly into the camera and convey an uncanny presence with her dead-eyed gaze steals the spotlight. As she becomes a pivotal character in the film, her performance is impressive, giving our beloved Regan a run for her money. Rounding out the rest of the ensemble is Ian Bliss as Carmichael Haig, a brash skeptic eager to debunk the supernatural; Fayssal Bazzi as Christou, a psychic whose curiosity leads him into dangerous territory; and Rhys Auteri as Gus McConnell, Jack Delroy's loyal right-hand man.

A man is screaming at the camera
David Dastmalchian in Colin Cairnes and Cameron Cairnes ’ LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL. Courtesy of Adam White. An IFC Films and Shudder release

Despite the relatively small cast, each actor delivers a memorable performance, immersing themselves wholly in their roles. Their collective talent and the complexity of their character's views elevate the story, creating a dynamic ensemble that makes the audience feel as though they're watching a vibrant variety show unfold before their eyes.

Like the mockumentary Ghostwatch, LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL unfolds as a live recording. The scares in this film adopt a slow-build approach, gradually escalating as the audience looks on in wonder. After Christou's unsettling psychic connection, the tension steadily mounts, but some moments are interjected with humor to reassure the audience so that they remain engaged. Thankfully, patience is rewarded as the filmmakers deliver a hair-raising and unforgettable climax.

Additionally, a conscious effort was made to employ practical effects, significantly enhancing the film's realism and immersion. This included sleight of hand, a technique often associated with magicians, to illustrate how hypnotism can manipulate individuals to behave unexpectedly. We see this take place, most notably between Haig and McConnell, in a test by Haig to show the audience how easy it is to fake the supernatural. While some CGI was used, it was skillfully integrated to maximize impact without detracting from the authenticity of the scenes.

One of the standout features of the film is its visual presentation. The decision to depict "Night Owls" in color while the camera is rolling and then switch to black and white when off-camera effectively distinguished between the surface-level entertainment of the show and the underlying tension behind the scenes. However, the stylistic shift in the final 10 minutes deviates from the nostalgic 70s theme established earlier. Moving to a widescreen format with a stylized look felt jarring and disconnected from the rest of the movie. While I understand the intention behind this choice, I personally found it detracted from the overall film. Had the film ended after the show's horrors were fully realized, it would have felt more final and terrifying.

LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL delivers a spooktacular experience that pays homage to the 1970s era of late-night talk shows while embracing the eerie allure of the supernatural. David Dastmalchian gives a standout performance that firmly establishes his ability to be a leading man. While the film excels in many aspects, it's unfortunate that its association with AI may overshadow its merits in the eyes of audiences. Nonetheless, LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL is a testament to Dastmalchian's immense talent and the engrossing storytelling of its creators.

LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL is now in theaters.


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