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By Charlie David Page
5th April 2024

What has desperation led you to do - perhaps overindulge while on a diet? Stay out late on a work night? Lie to get out of something you really didn't want to do? Chances are it's nothing as extreme as those involved in the failing fictional TV show at the centre of 'Late Night with the Devil'.

There's more than a whiff of desperation in the air as the 1987 Halloween edition of 'Night Owls' goes live to air, its viewership in steady decline of late. The TV show's charismatic host, Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian, 'The Boogeyman', 'Dune'), has worked closely with producer Leo (Josh Quong Tart, TV's 'Underbelly' and 'All Saints') for a key reason - it's also sweeps week, a vital time for viewing figures in the United States. But some of the crew - led by Jack's sidekick Gus (Rhys Auteri, in his first feature role) - aren't so pleased by the surge in supernatural acts featuring on the show - and when things start going awry, that quickly turns to fear and terror.

The concept behind 'Late Night with the Devil' is second to none. Written, directed and edited by brothers Colin and Cameron Cairnes ('Scare Campaign', '100 Bloody Acres'), it might come as a surprise that this U.S. talk show horror concept was actually filmed in Melbourne, Australia. In fact, the idea of a live television program with tensions running high because of plummeting ratings works as the perfect canvas on which the horror can be composed. The interwoven stories are deeply constructed and feel real and tangible, with flashes that reveal the relationships that tie these characters together beyond their on-set appearance. The introduction of the guests one by one allows us to begin building tension - Delroy launches into the show with an air of goofiness, but things take a dramatic turn when not everything in first guest Christou's (Fayssal Bazzi, TV's 'Shantaram', 'Peter Rabbit') segment goes to plan; it's a turn that's slight but signals that the horror has already begun.


The other key element in this being a cohesive "found footage" film - it's meant to incorporate what was transmitted with behind-the-scenes video shot on the night - is that it really looks like a 70s late night TV show. Largely presented in a claustrophobic 4:3 aspect ratio, a lot of thought has gone into how to use the studio space effectively, from the somewhat awkward camera angles accompanied by less-than-polished framing and on-air zooms to the use of colour. It gives an air of authenticity that draws you into the world the film is trying to build.

It does have its stumbles, however. The second guest - a Harry Houdini-esque illusionist-turned-dispeller of charlatans (Ian Bliss, 'The Matrix' franchise, TV's 'Wentworth'). His presence throughout 'Night Owls' is persistent and pestering, and though he has a role to play later in the film aside from the naysayer, his constant badgering is too prominent and quickly becomes irritating.

We then finally get to the main course - the arrival of possessed teenager Lilly (Ingrid Torelli, 'Force of Nature: The Dry 2') and the parapsychologist who's been treating her, Dr June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon, TV's 'Hunters' and 'Secret City'). After excessive convincing (and many "...right after these messages" jokes), we finally get to what we've all been waiting for - to see Lilly taken over by the demonic force. Yet what we’ve been holding on so patiently for ends up being so fleeting - and its true impact on the horror scale a little underwhelming. If anything, parts are even cringeworthy as "energy" dashes around the studio along electrical cables.

The concept behind 'Late Night with the Devil' is second to none. The idea of a live television program with tensions running high because of plummeting ratings works as the perfect canvas on which the horror can be composed.

There's also the argument to be made that the film breaks the rules of the found footage genre by showing us events that don't actually happen - though difficult to discuss without revealing spoilers, things appear that are imagined by members of the show and the audience. While I could be convinced the first time this happens it's supposed to be the effects of hypnosis, what we see in the film's finale through Jack's perspective cannot. It's a shame in a film so deftly constructed to find such a large loophole.

It's almost unsatisfying walking out of 'Late Night with the Devil' - all the ingredients are there for something truly rich and glorious, but the final step has been skipped before the dish is placed in the oven. It's not in any way bad, but I know that there could have been something more to make this an unforgettable and legendary horror film. Nevertheless, it's great to see an outing in the genre with real thought put into it - so grab your crucifix and head out to the cinema. Just go in with low expectations and you'll invariably have an enjoyable experience.

RELEASE DATE: 11/04/2024
RUN TIME: 01h 26m
CAST: David Dastmalchian
Laura Gordon
Ian Bliss
Fayssal Bazzi
Ingrid Torelli
Rhys Auteri
Josh Quong Tart
Georgina Haig
Steve Mouzakis
Gaby Seow
Colin Cairnes
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