‘Late Night with the Devil’ is Weird but Fresh Found Footage Horror (Review)

by | Mar 22, 2024

A struggling talk show host takes drastic measures to keep his late night program alive in this unique feature starring David Dastmalchian. 

After the box office success of minimalist horror film Skinamarink, it’s more than evident that IFC Films and Shudder aim to help implement analog horror into the annals of contemporary horror and the found footage subgenre. Their latest attempt within this niche of cinematic terror is Late Night With The Devil, a delightfully weird and ultimately entertaining filmmaking debut from Australian brothers Cameron and Colin Cairnes, and one that gets by thanks to its creative concept, smart writing and compelling lead performance from David Dastmalchian.

The conceit of Late Night With The Devil is that the master tape of the final episode of Night Owls With Jack Delroy, a fictional 1970s late night talk show hosted by – you guessed it – Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian), has been discovered along with rare behind the scenes footage of activity during the commercial breaks of that very episode in 1977. On this Halloween night-edition, Delroy commits to the holiday theme through interviews with psychic medium Christou (Fayssal Bazzi), magician-turned-skeptic Carmichael Haig (Ian Bliss) and parapsychologist Dr. June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon), who has written a book about her work with teenager Lilly (Ingrid Torelli), the sole survivor of a Satanic cult.

Strange things begin happening on-set to the point where the show’s guests start to argue amongst themselves over the legitimacy of Christou’s readings and June’s studies, all the while there appears to be a war going on within Jack Delroy as well; Night Owls is in a ratings freefall after failing to beat The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson for all six years its been on the air, rumors are abound over Delroy’s involvement with a men’s-only club infamous for arcane rituals, and he is still coming to grips with the death of his wife Madeleine (Georgina Haig) to lung cancer. Delroy needs this episode to score a big rating on Sweeps Week with the whole country watching; just how far has he gone or will he go toward achieving stardom?

The answer may be easy to guess, but in a phenomenal lead performance, David Dastmalachian does a great job of keeping audiences guessing Delroy’s intentions and subsequent decisions, as well as be equal parts endeared to the talk show host and be disgusted by his actions at the same time. It’s remarkable to watch Delroy go from bantering with his bandleader Gus McConnell (Rhys Auteri) and struggle to hold back tears when he gives a heartfelt thanks to the viewers in the same scene, just as it is to see him nefariously downplay the concerns of everyone backstage over the occult segments planned for the show. The character actor is a chameleon throughout Late Night With The Devil, and his work here is living proof of his capabilities as a leading man going forward.

As co-writers and co-directors, the Cairnes brothers do a good job of keeping spectators wondering what’s really going on as well by lulling them into thinking they’re really watching a piece of lost media. The final episode of Night Owls is immaculately rendered in the style of a low-rent 1970s-era talk show, from the shabby art decor and costume design to the sets with vibrant colors only washed out by the aged camerawork.

To that end, the look of Late Night With The Devil stays stellar, even when the film switches to the monochrome behind-the-scenes footage. There, conversations Delroy has with producer Leo Fiske (Josh Quong Tart) and the myriad of guests and stagehands visibly shaken after an unnerving event feel intimate, villainous and set a tone that gets darker as the show goes along. This juxtaposition also succeeds in implementing a level of surrealism to the experience of watching the Cairnes’ debut feature, not unlike the best Adult Swim infomercials like Too Many Cooks or Final Deployment 4

But this is not a mere regurgitation of that familiar style. Late Night With The Devil is cleverly written with a natural, tense progression that thrusts its characters and their live studio audience into creative scenarios during the late night show’s on-air activity. Those who think the film is limited to its one-location premise will be awestruck at how much the Cairnes brothers accomplish, from an intimate conversation between Dr. June and Lilly that brings the arrival of a guest wanted only by Delroy, to a sketch where Gus faces his greatest fear during a confrontation with Carmichael.

If there’s anything to complain about over Late Night With The Devil, it’s right at the start. A big, long mockumentary-esque exposition dump does set the stage for what’s about to unfold and tells viewers everything they need to know about Jack Delroy going into the episode, when other entries in the found footage genre have made ominous details about their characters made known at a more gradual pace that leaves room for horrifying revelations and more suspense. An uneven use of special effects is also worth noting; while the practical efforts are solid, they’re often countered with clearly unreal CGI. 

But those serve to add to the ambiguity over whether or not the shocking events that take place on the last episode of Night Owls are of demonic origin, and audiences will be wowed by the film’s gonzo conclusion, how dedicated the Cairnes brothers are at recreating the look of 1970s television with novel authenticity, and David Dastmalchian’s acting abilities all while laughing at the absurdity of humorous banter amongst the ensemble and waiting with unease after an analog effect cues an incoming scare. If casual audiences and horror fans alike need something new to watch and have been disappointed by the genre’s recent efforts, they should spend a night in theaters or Shudder with Late Night With The Devil


RATING: ★★★1/2

(out of five stars)