Late Night with the Devil : Movie Review

Posted by Eddie Pasa on March 21, 2024 in / No Comments

 

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, IFC Films, Shudder, Late Night with the DevilI love horror movies. (My wife can tell you that they’re often my favorite thing to throw on when I go to sleep, often to her chagrin.) They can be fun and entertaining, and they offer you the thrill of being scared without being in danger, if that’s your thing. But it always goes the same way: You leave the theater considering the acting, the makeup effects, and how the filmmakers tried to make you jump out of your seat or make your brain go sideways. But it all wears off usually around about the time you get home, and – in my case as a reviewer – you try to hold onto the memories you want to talk about, whether positive or negative.

Not here. Hoo, boy, no. This one stays with you.

It’s been over fourteen hours since I finished watching Late Night with the Devil, and I’m still shivering at the memory of it. Not for a long time have I been completely freaked out and scared by a movie – maybe not since Fede Alvarez’s truly visceral Evil Dead remake in 2013. That was a movie that had scares, gore, and atmosphere, all set in and around a backwoods cabin – plenty of room to move about and create any kind of atmosphere you want. Alvarez did just that, using different colors, smash zooms and whip pans, and other mood-setting techniques where his limits were only his and his crew’s imaginations.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, IFC Films, Shudder, Late Night with the DevilConversely, Late Night with the Devil confines itself to a TV studio, with TV cameras and two behind-the-scenes film cameras capturing everything as it happens. There’s lighting, sure, but the usable areas are limited to the soundstage and the direct backstage area. The behind-the-scenes cameras are running black and white 35mm film, leaving the 1970s TV cameras to capture everything else in the then-limited color space. And why are we here? To watch late-night host Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) attempt to stave off cancellation with a desperate broadcast stunt.

We’re propelled back to the days of gas shortages, the Nixon resignation, Jimmy Carter, and the rise of news reporting that followed the “If it bleeds, it leads” adage coined by William Randolph Hearst. Also central to writers/directors Cameron and Colin Cairnes’ found footage frightfest is the ‘70s obsession with cults and the occult, both of which play into why Delroy has chosen Halloween to tackle all of it. His guests for this night, where the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest? A self-professed psychic; a former magician, now devoted to debunking so-called paranormal activity; and finally, a parapsychologist and her young patient, the sole survivor of a demon-worshipping cult mass suicide.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, IFC Films, Shudder, Late Night with the DevilThe Cairnes brothers take care not to overplay anything, leaving us hanging on the possibility that maybe we’re just seeing things owing to blips on the master tape or mere suggestions of the unnatural. We see Christou (Fayssal Bazzi) work his supposedly psychic powers to middling effect with the studio audience, which casts doubt on the screaming fit he has that causes his eyes to forcibly roll upwards and beyond a physically possible position. Even more doubt is thrown our way when Carmichael (Ian Bliss) shows us how all of Christou’s act is a bunch of hooey.

But there’s no mistaking the increasing amounts of dread piling up with each commercial break, as Delroy gets more news – both about his show and the condition of one of his hastily departing guests – that makes him push the envelope further than he should. And when he brings out Dr. June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon) and cult survivor Lilly (Ingrid Torelli), the latter of whom stares intensely at the cameras instead of talking with everyone on stage normally, the Cairnes brothers masterfully build and build to a shocking climax that will horrify even the most jaded of scary movie enthusiasts.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, IFC Films, Shudder, Late Night with the DevilThe notion of the audience being toyed with is savored, especially where Carmichael is concerned. We almost rely on his condescending attitude to help us believe that none of this is really happening, that Delroy is doing anything and everything he can to maintain his viewership through sordid chicanery. The Cairnes brothers give us outs, but we’re unwilling to take them, having been conditioned through the media to stay tuned for bigger and better “after these words from our sponsors.” All of this is borne by the committed cast led by David Dastmalchian, who usually takes roles that skew toward the strange and unusual.

Here, Dastmalchian tones it down completely, not even venturing to make Jack Delroy the comedian he’s supposed to be. Instead, he’s the baseline for this night of terrors; while everyone around him is some sort of archetype, he’s calm, trying to stay in control of himself while others either encourage him to go further or warn him against doing so. Aside from last year’s Oppenheimer, this is the most knowingly natural I’ve ever seen him; the Cairnes brothers wisely use our expectations against us with his casting, and Dastmalchian solidly holds down his end to keep the film grounded.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, IFC Films, Shudder, Late Night with the DevilOpposite him, Ingrid Torelli stands out as the frighteningly placid Lilly, who seems to have happily accepted that a demon might be residing in her body. Lilly freaks us out by just looking at the camera; she doesn’t have to say a word, leaving Torelli the room to create an ominous presence through her eyes and posture. Again, our expectations are flouted by having Lilly portrayed as this smiling teenager who seems to relish being on camera and who doesn’t mind that “Mr. Wriggles” can come and go when he wants. Torelli alternately keeps us glued to the scene and repulses us just by her mannerisms, switching deftly between her character’s intent and what’s behind her piercing, eerie visage.

I once wrote an opinion that “horror films” are different from “scary movies,” figuring that the latter was kind of everyday, Friday the 13th-type film that teens attend to have a good time and the former was where characters cannot escape horrible fates. Late Night with the Devil is a perfect combination of the two, holding enough in the scare department while watching our characters tunnel further away from the light toward their agonizing destination. Even though we wish for reason to settle the matters and that people could make the right decisions, the Cairnes brothers purposefully travel down the other path. In this film, hubris gives way to damnation, and for every second of it, we’re clinging to hope that some possible good could come of these events. Here’s the thing, though: Cameron and Colin Cairnes don’t care one solitary whit about that hope, leading us through a waking nightmare the likes of which I’ve seldom seen.

Rated R by the MPA for violent content, some gore, and language including a sexual reference. Running time: 93 minutes. Released by IFC Films and Shudder.

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Eddie Pasa

Eddie is a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). Since starting in 2010 at The Rogers Revue, Eddie has written for Reel Film News (now defunct), co-founded DC Filmdom, and writes occasionally for Gunaxin. When not reviewing movies, he's spending time with his wife and children, repeat-viewing favorites on Blu-Ray, working for rebranding agency Mekanic, or playing acoustic shows and DJing across the DC/MD/VA area. Special thanks go to Jenn Carlson, Moira and Ari Pasa, Viki Nova at City Dock Digital in Annapolis, Mike Parsons, Philip Van Der Vossen, and Dean Rogers.

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