‘Late Night with the Devil’ Review: Chat-show Horror Possesses an Ambitious Charm

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Late Night With The Devil (2023) © IFC Films

The latest buzzy horror movie to arrive from the Land Down Under sees director brothers Colin and Cameron Cairnes enter the world of late-night talk show TV with an inventive take on the found footage horror film. 

★★★☆☆

In a rather lengthy introduction, the foundations are laid. We’re introduced to Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian), host of late-night talk show Night Owls. In the battle for the late-night ratings crown, perennial nearly-man Delroy is shown to have gone to increasingly questionable lengths, including visiting a mysterious private men’s club called ‘The Grove’. A playground for the rich with a taste for the occult, where careers can be made and legacies cemented, it’s a nod to the infamous Bohemian Grove club, which featured many of America’s presidents and the country’s powerful old guard.

With his ratings share still dwindling, and following the death of his beloved wife. Jack becomes more desperate than ever for a home-run episode. What we’re shown is the tape of what was supposedly broadcast as a live Halloween TV event in 1977.

It’s a pretty solid parody of a ‘70s chat show, replete with a live band, cheesy gags and some nifty set design. But to fully flesh out the story, it’s combined with some ‘backstage footage’ that feels oddly unconvincing considering the level of work put into making Night Owls feel authentic. Still, Dastmalchian is perfectly cast as the charming but ambitious host. Familiar from his supporting roles at the edges of some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters—The Dark Knight, Dune and the Ant-Man franchise—and yet not instantly recognisable, the actor plays Delroy with the necessary air of B-list celebrity charm.

Late Night With The Devil (2023) © IFC Films

His guests for the evening include psychic medium Christou (Fayssal Bazzi), who kicks off the show with a demonstration of his ‘powers’,and conjurer-turned-sceptic Carmichael Haig (Ian Bliss), who acts as the foil to the evening’s increasingly supernatural events. Things start to take a turn when parapsychologist and writer June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon) is joined on stage by Lily (Ingrid Torelli), a young girl born into a Manson-esque cult who, having survived a police stand-off and ensuing house fire, now supposedly harbours the Demon of Abraxas within her. A demon Jack desperately wants to meet on air.

As June (supposedly) authenticates this demonic presence, Carmichael is quick to debunk it with a demonstration of his own. It’s here where the film excels, with the tension between two opposing viewpoints providing fertile ground. The very format of talk show TV is grounded in that friction, the promise of which was unearthed in the late 1960s by ABC and their coverage of the Republican and Democratic Party conventions, where Gore Vidal took on William F. Buckley Jr. in a battle of ideas. The thrill of observing two opposing corners meet is what gives Late Night its edge—yet almost as quickly as it appears, it dissipates. Much like its fictional host, the film can’t quite make it over the hump, instead descending into a rather flat and disappointing final act.

The Verdict

In a genre that’s overflowing with bad ideas or bad execution—and often both—it’s difficult to be hyper-critical of a big swing like this. Even if it does revert to type, it’s a fun, hokey way to spend 90 minutes in the company of a host who’s infinitely more charming than James Corden. Just perhaps not as scary…

Late Night With The Devil is In cinemas from Friday 19 March

Words by Jeremy Arblaster


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