“Before we continue I’d like to apologize to anyone who might be upset or offended by what you saw before the break. It’s not every day you see a demonic possession on live television.”
Not the most typical sentence you’d expect to hear from a late night host, but such is the statement made by Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian, the perennial support player seizing leading man territory here) following an interview with a supposedly possessed teenage girl, Lilly (Ingrid Torelli), during a Halloween-themed segment on his late night program, Night Owls with Jack Delroy.
Taking the “found footage” subsect of the horror genre and giving it a healthy twist as to not fall too heavily on expected tropes, Australian filmmaking duo Colin Cairnes and Cameron Cairnes have occasionally nasty, always unbridled fun with Late Night With the Devil, flipping between “actual” footage of a supposed lost episode of the created show and the behind the scenes scramble as to how it was put together and ultimately fell apart.
Whilst the notion that a late night talk show host would converse with a victim of apparent possession may seem bizarre, it’s all tactical, with the show in question – successful it may be – constantly lagging behind the juggernaut that is The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Delroy’s desperate enough to try whatever he can to lure audiences in, so why not converse with the devil during the prime Halloween period? Seems fool-proof.
After a 20/20-style cold opening describes the bizarre events that were to unfold during Delroy’s fateful show, Late Night With the Devil ultimately plays out in (mostly) real time. Given its 1970’s setting, the satanic panic thematic the film caters to makes perfect sense, but believing that everything on hand will still be as calculated as possible, Delroy and his bantering sidekick, Gus (Rhys Auteri), assure the live audience that nothing will go wrong, but it will be a night to remember all the same.
Psychics and skeptics take to the stage in manners that play into the controlled nature of the show – psychic Christou (Fayssal Bazzi) seems to stumble luckily onto certain names believed to be “crossed over” connections to audience members – but it’s through the introduction of the aforementioned Lilly that the evening takes a turn for the worse; although Christou projectile vomiting strange substances doesn’t help keep the growingly concerned audience stay calm.
Lilly seemingly always looking for the right camera to stare down suggests an air of theatricality, but her unsettling nature (and soul-sucking gaze to us as an audience) leads to the film veering into truly horrific territory. The Cairnes brothers indulge in the exaggerated nature of possession-themed horror films, but manage to always stay somehow grounded, with Dastmalchian selling the terror to us as an audience. The chameleon-like performer has all the showman cockiness of what it is to embody a late night performer, but as his own desperation takes hold, the film leans into the danger of what’s taking place on screen, and that it’s never a guaranteed if what we’re watching is all for show or genuine satanic behaviour.
A love letter to the period of the 1970’s, Late Night With the Devil enjoys melding the modern sensibilities of the found footage genre with the bold mentality of horror movies gone by.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Late Night With the Devil is screening as part of this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival, running in cinemas between August 3rd and 20th, 2023, and online through MIFF Play August 18th and 27th, 2023. For more information head to the official MIFF page.
Late Night With the Devil was originally reviewed as part of this year’s SXSW Film & TV Festival and Sydney Film Festival coverage.