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'Late Night with the Devil' Review

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April 8, 2024
Tyler Banark
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On brief occasions, I’ll bring a notebook and pen to take notes while watching a movie. It’s been since November when I last did it for David Fincher’s The Killer. I don’t know what came over me to decide to do this again for Late Night with the Devil, but it turned out to be the right decision as this film was a lot. It would be a massive understatement to say it was a good time because this is the best new horror movie I’ve seen since Midsommar. It acts as a fresh, spine-tingling fright fest that gets under viewers’ skins and breathes life back into found footage filmmaking.

Found-footage filmmaking has evolved quite a bit since it started as a trip into the woods caught on film in 1999’s The Blair Witch Project. Capitalized by the horror genre, notably in the Paranormal Activity franchise, the style crept into sci-fi thrillers like Cloverfield and Chronicle. With Late Night with the Devil, the game has officially changed, promoting the gaze into the lens of a broadcast late-night talk show called Night Owls. Continually competing with The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, host Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) hopes that their upcoming Halloween special will give them an edge. His guests for the episode include psychic Christou, magician-turned-skeptic Carmichael the Conjurer, parapsychologist Dr. June Ross-Mitchell, and her patient Lilly. What unfolds with these guests leads to chaos and forces Jack to revisit his shady past.

Late Night with the Devil cleverly finds ways to incorporate its found-footage DNA, allowing it to serve as a unique narrative tool. The structure is only used while the show is airing, which then shifts to a black-and-white handheld documentary gaze during the commercial breaks. Most of these documentary segments are stuffed in the beginning to serve as exposition, almost as a small price to unlock this grandiose puzzle.

There is never a reliance on jump scares, rather, directors Cameron and Colin Cairnes focus on the fear of the unknown and what’s going to happen next. Much of those feelings come when June and Lilly conjure a demon named Mr. Wriggles, which takes over Lilly’s body and violently contorts it until you can hear her bones crack and skin peel. Of course, the sight of a little girl being possessed by a demon has become a common occurrence (see The Exorcist: Believer just last October), but it’s unique enough here thanks to Ingrid Torelli’s acting. And if that doesn’t send chills down your spine, the entire third act will with its all-out attitude of twisted material.

Known for his versatility as a character actor in major blockbusters, including The Dark Knight, the Ant-Man trilogy, Blade Runner 2049, Dune, The Suicide Squad, and Oppenheimer, Dastmalchian is finally given the time to shine in one of his rare lead performances. He brings both depth and nuance to Jack, convincing the audience of his internal struggles, all while wreaking havoc right in front of them. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if he made my end-of-year Best Lead Actor ballot.

The Cairnes’ script strongly comments on how far people are willing to go to achieve something, even in the face of dire consequences. There’s a moment where Jack sees Night Owls as a success, but even then, he succumbs to the realization that he’s flown too close to the sun. In the end, that’s what Late Night with the Devil is about, and in return, Jack is doomed to a lifetime of being haunted by this mistake. By the time this sinks in with audiences, there’s one thing left to give Jack (and the movie as a whole)...thunderous applause.

You can follow Tyler and hear more of his thoughts on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd.

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