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Review: Late Night with the Devil (2024)

Late Night with the Devil (2024)

Directed by: Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes

Premise: Set in 1977, a late-night talk show broadcasts its Halloween episode which includes a psychic, a girl who claims to be demonically possessed, and a skeptic out to debunk the supernatural. The show is bedeviled by strange phenomena.

What Works: Late Night with the Devil dabbles with the pseudo-documentary genre. It recreates a late-night talk and variety show from the 1970s and it is an impressively mounted period piece. Not only do the sets and costumes invoke the era but also the filmmaking replicates the analog imagery of 1970s television. The picture often looks like archival footage from that era. The film is primarily about television host Jack Delroy whose show is floundering and who recently lost his wife. What starts out as a ploy to spike the ratings becomes a test of belief and faith with Delroy facing not only his grief but also ominous implications of what he might have done to advance his career. The performance by David Dastmalchian is exceptional. Dastmalchian is a character actor who has often been cast as kooky side characters but he’s the lead in Late Night with the Devil and it is an extraordinary performance; Dastmalchian is alternately sympathetic and sinister. The film mostly plays out in real time during the taping of the special; segments of the program alternate with behind-the-scenes drama as the crew becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the content of the show. Even without the supernatural drama, Late Night with the Devil works as a show business tale. The demonic aspects heighten the stakes and deepen the characters. The film is very tense and for most of its running time the ambiguity and ethics of what we are seeing is engrossing.

What Doesn’t: Late Night with the Devil recreates the 1970s aesthetic very well but it betrays that look with a few digital effects. These images are very obviously computer generated and they stick out against the otherwise meticulous recreation of the analog era. Late Night with the Devil is, for most of its running time, a smart and tightly wound mix of supernatural horror, mystery, and a personal story of grief. It’s a delicate balance and an involving illusion but the film goes awry in the ending. Abandoning the realist style of the rest of the picture, Late Night with the Devil goes into surreal territory that is visually interesting but abandons the nuance and ambiguity of the earlier portions. It comes across unnecessary and pads out the running time. In several respects, Late Night with the Devil is reminiscent of The Last Exorcism which was also a great movie up until the last few minutes.

Bottom Line: For most of its running time, Late Night with the Devil is an exceptional picture. The filmmakers lose their way in the ending but not so badly as to ruin the entire movie and Late Night with the Devil has a lot in it that is provocative and smart as well as scary.

Episode: #991 (April 7, 2024)