Late Night with the Devil is the most fun that I have had with a horror film in a hot minute. It really finds that space in the Venn diagram that encompasses popcorn horror, clever writing, and an innovative story. I love discovering movies like this. I would file Deadstream, The House of the Devil and Saint Maud on the same shelf. Not because they are similar in premise or tone, but more because of the experience I had watching them. It’s so fun to go into an indie horror film and discover something new. A story that hasn’t been told that isn’t part of a bigger franchise. I love higher budget, more mainstream horror, but it’s films like this that give us more of an opportunity to experience something unexpected. I love that.

The story takes place in the late 1970s. Jack Delroy (David Dasmtalchian) is the host of a late night variety show called "Night Owls." He has had a successful career, but has never quite made it to the top. Year after year, as successful as the show gets, he always finds himself falling just short in the ratings. As beloved as he and his show are, he can’t quite eke his way into the top slot and become the king of late night television. 

The film opens by giving us an overview of his career, accented by clips and a great narration from Michael Ironside. After this introduction, we join Jack for a special Halloween episode of Night Owls. This is the one that is going to finally bring him to the top. He has booked a number of guests, all centering on the spiritual realm. We have a medium (Fayssal Bazzi) who does some semi-successful cold readings with the audience; a professional skeptic (Ian Bliss), who makes a living debunking charlatans who squeeze money out of well-meaning people while pretending to reach across to the “other side;” and a parapsychologist (Laura Gordon) and her mysterious client, a young girl named Lilly, who claims to be possessed by a demon. (Ingrid Torelli). 

The audience is primed and is very in tune with the theme of the show. Some are die-hard believers in the supernatural, others are a bit more cautious. All of them are there for an entertaining Halloween evening. Jack hopes to deliver an exciting show that creates buzz - either by scaring the crap out of his audience members, or by giving them something to debate afterwards.

The show starts smoothly; Jack is on fire, connecting with both the audience and the guests. He is delivering an incredible performance and the special guests are an immediate hit. However, as the evening goes on, things begin to get a bit strange. Particularly (to no one’s surprise) when Dr. Gordon and her patient Lilly come out. Is Lilly really possessed by a demon? Or have we just tapped into the infamous Satanic Panic that gripped the nation in the late 70s and early 80s? As the presence of the supernatural begins to become undeniable, both the studio audience and we as the viewers begin to question the nature of what we are seeing and wonder where it will all take us. 

The story, co-written and directed by Cameron Cairnes and Colin Carines, unfolds along two distinct lines. First, we have everything that is happening onstage. It is part of the broadcast, and is being experienced both by the audience in the studio, and the television audience watching from home. Second, there is the more behind the scenes story, which is shown just to us whenever the show breaks for commercials. In those segments, we get to see how the crew is reacting to what is happening onstage, what else is happening in the building, and other details that aren’t being presented for the sake of pure entertainment. This proves to be a very clever way of filling in some of the gaps for us, the theatrical audience. We might not be seeing anything strange happening on stage, but we are hearing about things going wrong or oddly with the broadcast or elsewhere in the studio. It’s often not anything major, but it’s enough to tell us that, despite what we’re seeing as a part of the show, this night isn’t moving forward like just any night.

The joy of this film (and maybe even the Devil) is in the details. Everything here comes together perfectly, and the finished product is just magic. It’s not just the story or the effects (both are great). It’s the way the Cairnes are able to add in little flourishes along the way. There are the on- and offstage methods of delivering the story to the audience, but there are also a lot of non-story-focused beats that just add to the fabric of the world. Details that are very specific to a talk show from the 1970s. The set, obviously, and the costumes are big pieces. But also the types of acts that this show is hosting and the way Jack interacts with them, both on and off stage. It all feels very real.

Dastmalchian is incredible, especially in this regard. He nails the role of the 70s talk show host. Yes, this is definitely a character “type” that has survived to this day, but the persona has changed. Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert and the like all have performance personas when they are onscreen, but that persona has changed a lot over the past 40 years. Dastmalchian is finding something a little more old school. The voice he uses, the cadence of his speech - all reminiscent of a bygone era when television personalities were a bit more polished. Not professional, just polished. The personas that Johnny Carson and his contemporaries put on were much more international. More of a mask, and less naturalistic. 

And it’s particularly interesting as we cut back and forth between the show as it airs and the stuff that is happening on set during commercial breaks. We get to see more of the real Jack come out when the cameras stop rolling. It’s not a dramatic Jekyll and Hyde scenario, but there is a big difference between Jack the person and the character that he puts out into the world. And seeing this difference helps to fill in some of the details about him and his motivations. 

There’s a lot to love about Late Night with the Devil. It’s a unique film that comes together in a lot of different ways and carries its own brand of creativity. Watching the story unfold is a lot of fun, but so is the act of just sitting with it and appreciating all of the different elements that fed into the overall experience. I didn’t know quite what to expect as this one started rolling, and it was a tremendously fun ride, start to finish.

Movie Score: 5/5

[Editor's Note: This review was written prior to the revelation that AI art was used in some of the film's transition slides. We are disappointed to learn of the inclusion of AI art, when there are numerous options to leverage artists that can create original horror artwork.]