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‘Late Night with the Devil’ (review)

Back in 1992, the BBC was inundated with complaints after the fictional paranormal investigation program Ghostwatch was broadcast during prime time on October 31st, and the program was all but buried due to the outrage from a significant portion of the public who had been left traumatized by what some thought was a genuine broadcast depicting real events.

Silly as it may seem more than three decades later, at the time Ghostwatch was broadcast, entries into the found footage genre were scarce, and the trust in television presenters was still substantial, as they were often considered beacons of integrity.

Thus, when the likes of Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene and Mike Smith appeared on the screen in a show that imitated the format of the popular live broadcast Crimewatch and used its same phone number – which was so overwhelmed by calls that it failed to play a pre-recorded message that informed callers Ghostwatch was a fictional presentation – many viewers, who had missed the initial disclaimer about the nature of the program at the beginning of the broadcast, were confused at best, and terrified at worst.

While Late Night with the Devil does not have the benefit of its concept being novel due to featuring purely fictional characters and viewers being accustomed to the found footage genre nowadays, it is nonetheless still a good concept that lends itself well to the world of horror.

Being largely convincing stylistically with its cinematography, set design, and the various characters involved fitting in well with a late night talk show from the 1970s, the commitment to the era works overwhelmingly well, except for a few out of place props and those three disappointing, AI-generated interstitials that appear from time to time.

The pacing of the film is superbly managed, with the intro about the main character – David Dastmalchian’s oleaginous Jack Delroy – lending the film a mockumentary feel sprinkled with a hint of camp, and as the show unfolds, the sense of dread steadily mounts until a scary moment catches you off-guard.

And those scary moments are executed very well.

The effects are impactful without being excessive, nothing is cheapened by lazy jump scares, and the TV medium is used to its full effect to enhance the type of scares utilized.

Not particularly gory, the film does nonetheless feature some body horror, but the restraint with which it is used here makes it that much more effective compared to how many newer possession horrors often overuse body horror and gore to an almost cartoonish extent.

Always slyly winking at the viewer, Late Night with the Devil takes an ironic approach to both vintage pop culture in general and the demonic possession genre in particular, but while the film certainly has an undercurrent of humor, it never undersells the horror aspect, which is further empathized by how the intensity and weirdness is increased as the show unfolds.

Here, the film achieves a rare balance between its elements of humor and horror, which is further helped by the editing and the way the performances are honed to emphasize the discomfort one would associate with watching a broadcast gone wrong in the comfort of one’s home.

Featuring several competent performances of various archetypes, lead David Dastmalchian undoubtedly steals the show with a pitch perfect performance as a stereotypical late night talk show host of yesteryear.

Due to his efforts conveying the stereotype well, it becomes that much more uncomfortable when the facade begins to crack, and thanks to Dastmalchian’s range, his performance is nuanced and compelling throughout.

Watching this film with an audience makes for an interesting experience, as there are many memorable moments throughout, but watching it by yourself at home on the small screen may be the most immersive way to experience the horrors of Late Night with the Devil, as the small screen is after all what it is trying to emulate, and it does make a fine double bill with Ghostwatch indeed.

Verdict: 8 out of 10.

*  *  *  *  *
Produced by Mat Govoni, Adam White, John Molloy,
Roy Lee, Steven Schneider, Derek Dauchy

Written and Directed by Colin Cairnes and Cameron Cairnes
Starring David Dastmalchian, Laura Gordon, Ian Bliss, Fayssal Bazzi,
Ingrid Torelli, Rhys Auteri, Georgina Haig, Josh Quong Tart

 

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