de facto film reviews 3 stars

A descendant of the Found Footage sub genre, the latest film from Australian filmmaking duo Cameron & Colin Cairnes is the kind of indie gem that makes horror such an exciting genre. A cheeky throwback to 1970’s television, the Golden Age of late-night talk shows, the Cairnes brothers second film since their debut horror comedy 100 Bloody Acres is a highly unique and immensely entertaining genre picture. Taking a live television broadcast gone wrong with supernatural occurrences is something we’ve seen in the 1992 BBC original film Ghostwatch, but the filmmaking duo brings together a few distinct elements. A fun retro setting and a thin, but firm through line of satire.

Courtesy IFC Films

Opening narration, by none other than Michael Ironside, sets up the long lost master tape of the final episode of late-night talk show “Night Owls with Jack Delroy”. Since 1971, “Night Owls” has been seen as a competitor to “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson”, but lacks the ratings to truly compete. Host Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) has become something of a tabloid magnet, losing his non-smoking wife to lung cancer six months prior, and being a member of The Grove, a mysterious men’s club with rumored connections to the occult. With ratings dropping to new lows, the show looks to make a statement with its Halloween episode. 

On the broadcast is Christou (Fayssal Bazzi), an opportunistic medium. The chermudgeony Carmichael Haig (Ian Bliss), a professional magician-turned-skeptic. And lastly, Dr. June Roth-Mitchell (Laura Gordon), a parapsychologist who’s written a new book titled “Conversations with the Devil”, along with the subject of the book, a teenage girl named Lilly (Ingrid Torelli), who was the sole survivor from a suicide cult called Cult of Abraxas. Lilly has the ability to conjure up spirits in what Dr. June calls “psychic infestation”, while others would call it demonic possession. Lilly names the spirit that’s been recently tormenting her “Mr. Wiggles”. Looking for any opportunity to goose up his flailing ratings, Jack pushes Lilly to use her abilities to communicate with “Mr. Wiggles” live on television in order to be the first talk show with legitimate proof of the supernatural. Of course, things begin to spiral out of control in spectacular fashion.

Late Night with the Devil is an inspired and cleverly conceived piece of real-time horror. While it’s not the first film of its kind, it’s a revitalization of the kind of film like WNUF Halloween Special and Ghostwatch, films that felt like they should have lived on a VHS tape for the rest of time. However, Devil has the added advantage of a confident directing duo and more prevalent character development than either film, which does boast some of the film’s ingenuity. The Cairnes brothers recreate the 70’s era of late-night television impeccably with real authenticity. The main show stage feels lived-in and the set design looks directly lifted from the era its replicating. Everything down to the wardrobe, hair and make-up, intentionally corny jokes, silly sketches and cutesy transitions all bring this period of time to life with vibrancy. While we do occasionally break away from the television format to chaotic looks behind the scenes during the commercial breaks — shown in black and white while utilizing split screens to heighten the intensity of a live talk show taping— most of the film is presented in its authentic form.

Courtesy IFC Films

The latest from the Cairnes brothers is also a long overdue showcase for veteran “that guy” David Dastmalchian; one of this generation’s finest screen presences. From his screen-stealing turns in Prisoners, James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad and most recently, the Best Picture-winning Oppenheimer, Dastmalchian has been a consistently reliable character actor since his brief, but memorable appearance as the tied up Joker thug in The Dark Knight. Dastmalchian is a highly deft performer, making his Jack Delroy an increasingly unique character. We see the perpetual erosion of Jack’s emotional state as the night moves on and his best attempts to hold the show together. His smarmy attitude is balanced well with Dastmalchian’s sheer likability as an actor. Jack Delroy’s arc is also one that continuously evolves throughout the film with more layers of the character coming through up until the film’s final moments. Dastmalchian’s commitment, and the film’s for that matter, really keeps everything working together in harmony. Delroy’s sidekick, Gus McConnell, the Ed McMahon/Andy Richter type, is wonderfully embodied by actor Rhys Autori. Ingrid Torelli is instantly creepy as the possessed Lilly, even if the character doesn’t have any notable traits apart from being creepy.

The filmmakers get some decent mileage out of playing on tropes of hypnotism, possession and the late night format. When used, the practical gore effects and make-up are all well executed, with one gag involving worms reaching peak levels of discomfort. While the film doesn’t have many outright frights, the few that are here are spaced out nicely with creeping tension. Late Night with the Devil maintains a thoroughly rich atmosphere that gradually builds and builds until the rather overzealous final few minutes. Despite it concluding with a bit of a shocker, it’s an ending that would have benefitted from just a little restraint.

Courtesy IFC Films

Late Night with the Devil is a clever and spooky throwback to the golden age of late-night television. Writer/directors Cameron & Colin Cairnes craft a superbly entertaining horror film that gives veteran character actor David Dastmalchian his finest leading role to date. This will surely become a new Halloween staple.

Late Night with the Devil opens nationwide in theaters March 22nd.