Late Night with the Devil – Review

Late Night with the Devil David DastmalchianThis review contains mild spoilers

Demonic possession is a staple of the horror genre. Perhaps rightly or wrongly, any film attempting to scare the bejesus out of you (pardon the pun) will always be compared to 1973’s The Exorcist. It’s the gold standard of head spinning, foul mouthed, scar faced, green eyed possession.

Writer / directors Colin and Cameron Cairnes set their film on Halloween night, 1977, and even makes reference to William Friedkin’s controversial horror. It’s sweeps week in television and late night chat show host, Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian), is desperate to save his show. Consistently tanking against rival host Johnny Carson, he is in dire need of an explosive spook-tacular that will set his career back on path. Having attempted a number of increasingly rash and exploitative guest slots, he hopes that Lily (Ingrid Torelli), a young cult survivor who claims to be possessed by a demon, will save his show.

Late Night with the Devil doesn’t just borrow from possession films. It presents itself as “found footage”, giving context to Delroy’s career before its terrifying televisual climax. What we see, we are told, is the live broadcast from that fateful Halloween episode, exactly as it unravelled on air. Normally, this might feel quite gimmicky, but it gives the film a chaotic energy from the get go.

It’s this tension that really fuels Late Night. There’s an extraordinary sense that something very bad is going to happen but, as viewers, you can’t put your finger on when or how. There are lots of lovely little red herrings, throughout, too, that keep you on edge. Why is that man in the skeleton costume not joining in with the applause? Is Christou, the medium, really faking it? What is the secret society that Jack is alleged to be a part of? You know the film is ultimately building towards the demonic possession scenes but there are so many sub-plots and twists that keep you thoroughly engaged along the way. You’re not rushing to get to the “good stuff” because it’s all good stuff.

David Dastmalchian excels in the lead role. Desperate to save his show, Night Owls, you can almost smell frenzy on Jack. With his slick 70s side part and well-pressed beige suit, he is every inch the debonair television host. He cracks bad jokes with a drum beat, he looks interested in his guests and he gazes pleadingly down the barrel of the lens when delivering something with emotional poignancy. Barely underneath all this poise and perfection is a man on the edge. Having lost his wife to cancer, his TV show is all he has. He needs his audience. Dastmalchian is able to convey all these layers to Delroy with no more than a twitch of the lip or a flicker of the eyes. He is clearly very troubled, both by his past and what is unfolding in front of him. It’s an incredibly watchable performance that merits repeat viewing to pick up on all the little touches and nuances he brings to the role.

Once it all starts kicking off on Night Owls, the body horror is a real treat for genre fans. Watching co-presenter Gus (Rhys Auteri) rip his torso apart only to have thousands of worms Late Night with the Devil David Dastmalchianemerge from his insides is a reminder of why practical effects are so bloody fantastic (pun fully intended). And, of course, we see Lily become her demonic alter ego through greasy hair, a slashed face and bright green-yellow eyes. Her voice alters, leaning into that echoing, dual-layered sound that all movie demons seem to have. It’s an impressive performance from Ingrid Torelli, whose unnervingly sweet smile and unblinking eyes belie the horror she is about to unleash.

What Colin and Cameron Cairnes also get right is the sense that this is a period piece. The “Satanic Panic”, frequently referenced throughout, is a legitmate thing that happened, grounding the film in real-life events. The beige, brown and orange sets feel authentic. The costumes are spot on. The jaunty, harmless jazz and pop that peppers the TV show is inoffensive. The commercial breaks and words from our sponsors sound and look exactly as they should. It’s all very friendly and warm and “invite us into your living room, it’s only television”. This contrasts so spectacularly with a finale that is a visceral fever dream of death and destruction.

Late Night with the Devil is one of those films that you immediately want to start over again the minute the credits roll. It’s perfectly executed, both in terms of the era and genre it seeks to explore. There are no silly jump scares or cliches, focusing instead on a thoroughly unnerving and inescapable sense of dread. David Dastmalchian and Ingrid Torelli, in particular, give fantastically compelling performances that will draw you in and leave you sufficiently spooked.

Late Night with the Devil is now screening in UK cinemas.

Mary Munoz
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