No, this isn’t a James Corden biopic! In fact, this new mockumentary style horror film comes from Australian filmmakers Cameron and Colin Cairns (100 Bloody Acres) who reinvigorate the previously tiresome found-footage genre in Late Night with the Devil.
Late Night with the Devil is presented as a 1980s/90s retrospective style documentary about Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) and his relentless ambition to become the greatest, and most famous, talk show host of the 70s. Fictionalised archival footage chronicles Delroy’s struggle to achieve the ratings needed to rise to the top, despite his charming and engaging on-screen persona.
But, no celebrity can go unscathed by some form of negative public opinion. An unconfirmed link to an all-male cult with allegations of human sacrifice forces Delroy to win back the audience by having his terminally ill wife, Madeleine (Georgina Haig), on for a special episode, giving the late night host a taste of success by almost beating Carson in the ratings with the intimate interview.
The success doesn’t last long. Desperate to find a new way to boost the ratings and give audiences a real show, Delroy uses ‘Night Owls’ Halloween special to feature something no late night show, or live television program for that matter, has ever done before – bring a demonically possessed girl on the show, and try to communicate with the Devil.
After the ‘documentary’ perfectly and succinctly establishes the foundation for the overall story, the rest of the film is comprised of the recently unearthed taping of that fateful night’s show, along with behind the scenes footage during the ad breaks to get a better understanding of what really happened that night.
Late Night with the Devil is a fun, stylistically B-grade, low budget horror that not only breathes new life into the found footage genre, but also has been created with such sincerity from the Cairns brothers, that it will undoubtedly be putting into the midnight cult film screening rotations for any spooky seasons to come.
Cameron and Colin Cairns (who both wrote and directed the film) establish a deep lore in the opening 5-minute exposition dump for Jack Delroy and the events leading up to the taping that truly sets a strong foundation for the story to jump off from. The essential information that is given in the documentary style format has incredibly fun and terrifying pay offs all throughout the film. But the main strength shown in the Cairns’ brothers script, is that nothing is ever overtly and obviously revealed to the audience. The audience is never treated as dumb, and that only works more in amplifying the mystery and tension throughout.
Simultaneously, Late Night with the Devil is also really fun and strikingly funny. A medium, a sceptic con-man, a child therapist and a demonically possessed girl walk on to the set of a late night show… It’s the start of a joke, right? And the film has no qualms leaning into how insane the premise is, and it makes for an incredibly entertaining 85 minutes. All the gimmicks of late night TV act as perfect vehicles for the absurdity of the film’s situation, with wise-cracking jokes from the right-hand man about someone coughing up bile, to insincerely melodramatic introductions for a girl who’s about to be exorcised on live television.
Despite being laugh out loud funny at points, Late Night with the Devil uses the levity to also catch the audience off guard with its ever ramping tension. Flickering stage lights, images in the static, and creepy girls staring down the barrel of the camera all end up piling on top of each other to create this unnerving atmosphere of unpredictability. But, the stress and tension is most felt during the ad break, B-roll footage, where the lines between reality and TV magic are so blurred for the crew, that their feeling of uncertainty just exacerbates that film’s own feeling of uncertainty.
It also wouldn’t be a classic horror throwback without some good old blood and gore, and while it’s not necessarily frequent or by the bucketload, its sparing use is effective in the scenes where it does show up. The dated effects add a lot of nostalgic fun to the film, and the visual aesthetic of the late night talk show set work in making it feel true to the films of the 80s.
While the film itself works alone on its fun premise and solid execution from the Cairns brothers, credit is due to David Dastmalchian who commits to all the elements of his character, and the film as a whole. The cocky late night show persona is believable and enjoyable, but when the intensity ramps up and the tension both on and off the stage weighs down, Dastmalchian’s performance is the anchor that holds it all in place, no matter how crazy things get.
Late Night with the Devil is going to be a cult horror hit. It’s a truly fun premise that is executed with sincerity from the Cairns brothers, and led by a great performance from David Dastmalchian, that works as a corny throwback to 80s horror, revitalises the tiresome found footage genre, and has the genuine tension of modern thrillers.
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