Review | Late Night with the Devil | 2024

Laura Gordon, Ingrid Torelli, David Dastmalchian, and Ian Bliss in Colin Cairnes and Cameron Cairnes’ LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL. Courtesy of IFC Films and Shudder. An IFC Films and Shudder release.

It's a shame that much of the discussion surrounding Cameron and Colin Cairnes' new film, Late Night with the Devil, has been focused on its unfortunate use of AI to generate logos and intertitles for its central television show.  It's a solid low-budget chiller with a crafty twist on found footage horror, purporting to show the lost tape of a late night TV Halloween special from 1977 gone horribly awry. 

The AI images only make up a small part of the film but represent a much larger issue for the movie industry in which AI not only replaces the work of actual artists and graphic designers but steals from their work to produce its own. On the one hand, I hate that it has dominated the discussion surrounding this otherwise solid film, but it's absolutely something that must be called out and discussed because it represents such a creative threat. 

Make no mistake, it's a good film. Prolific character actor David Dastmalchian shines in his first leading role as Jack Delroy, a second-rate late night talk show host who is tired of being trounced in the ratings by Johnny Carson and is willing to do anything to lure in new viewers. Then, one fateful night for the show's Halloween special, Delroy hosts a psychic, a professional magician who moonlights as a skeptic debunking the paranormal, and a child psychologist who believes that her young ward is possessed by a demon. Strange occurrences begin to plague the production, and when Delroy asks the psychologist to conjure the demon in her patient for an on-air interview, all hell quite literally breaks loose.

The film's analog aesthetic creates an indelibly spooky atmosphere. There's something of a low-rent DIY feeling that nails the vibe of a struggling late night TV show. However, one can't help but wish that the filmmakers had dived deeper into the madness of its protagonist's Quixotic quest for a ratings coup against Carson, which I felt flew under the radar for far too long. That's what Late Night with the Devil is truly missing - a spark of madness. While it's supposed to be the tape of a television broadcast from 1977, it can sometimes feel too clean, keeping its dark heart too far in the shadows, undercutting the power of its horrifying finale. Until then, however, there's a sense of growing unease that is hard to shake, and it creates the feeling of a slow motion car crash - we know this is going to end in disaster and the filmmakers keep the audience on edge waiting for the next shoe to drop. The way it so indelibly ratchets up the suspense and the stakes is thrilling, and the film's slow burn build-up feels like an urban legend being born before our eyes.

In the end, was the AI worth it? No. We should be talking about a ghoulishly effective little horror film by two relatively unknown filmmakers, but that one mistake is so big it overshadows the film and distracts from the otherwise strong work on display. Your mileage may vary.

GRADE - ★★★ (out of four)

LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL | Directed by Cameron Cairnes, Colin Cairnes | Stars David Dastmalchian, Laura Gordon, Ian Bliss, Fayssal Bazzi, Ingrid Torelli | Rated R for violent content, some gore, and language including a sexual reference | Now playing in theaters nationwide and streaming on AMC+.


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