No one likely thought that late night television would make a perfect background for a horror movie, but Cameron and Colin Cairnes’s Late Night With the Devil juxtaposes this traditionally jovial setting with some horrific imagery and tons of suspense. It’s not without its faults, but it’s hard not to admire the film’s craftsmanship — even when it doesn’t work.
In the movie, a Halloween broadcast of a late-night talk show goes horribly wrong, unleashing an unspeakable evil that infects living rooms across America. It’s a fun and playful premise — and with a runtime under 90 minutes, it’s nice and lean, which will give it a life as a horror flick to put on late at night laying on the couch with a bowl of popcorn in hand.
The film is a very slow burn, designed to creep under the viewer’s skin before an absolutely unhinged third act. It takes some very ambitious swings, and doesn’t knock them all out of the park, but there’s something to be said about a movie that manages to be as consistently unnerving as this.
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There are some sequences in this film that are truly effective examples of horror filmmaking. Many of these moments feel like they were precisely crafted to get the maximum reaction out of the viewer, so they don’t always feel the most naturalistic. That being said, many of them — particularly during the shocking finale — are effectively unsettling.
After an introduction that follows a mockumentary format, the remainder of the runtime is primarily structured as a found footage movie made of the “lost recording” of this on-air tragedy. The production design, costuming, and cinematography all do a good job of periodizing the film and immersing us in this talk show turned sinister.
The weakest aspect of the movie is the character development, which feels rather generic. The backstory given to the protagonist is bland (the dead wife angle gives the audience something to latch onto emotionally, but doesn’t feel developed enough to feel natural), and the supporting characters are all very archetypal.
Without a doubt, the best thing about this film — and the only thing that holds it together — is David Dastmalchian’s performance in the leading role. Dastmalchian is truly excellent in the role, with the charm and charisma required to be a believable late night host, but also the slightly off-kilter, almost unhinged nature necessary to pull off the horror elements.
Late Night With the Devil is a fun little horror movie, and while it’s undeniably flawed, there are enough elements that work really well that it will stick with viewers more than most horror movies do. With anyone other than David Dastmalchian in the lead role, it probably would not have been as effective as it was.Late Night With the Devil is screening at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival, which runs March 10-18 in Austin, TX.
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