Now on streaming: “Late Night with the Devil”

Late-night talk show host Jack Delroy receives acclaim as a local commodity, although his desperate attempts at superstardom continue to fall by the wayside. Delroy looks to reverse his fortunes with a grand Halloween night show steeped in supernatural mysticism. However, what promises to be a spooky extravaganza quickly goes awry in “Late Night with the Devil.”

Part found-footage horror film, part Hollywood satire, “Late Night” attempts an intriguing high-wire act of genres and sensibilities on a minuscule B-movie budget. The daunting risks are part of what makes the film one of 2024’s defining cinematic achievements.

“Late Night with the Devil” showcases a singular vision amidst the crowded horror space. The unheralded writer/director duo Cameron and Colin Cairnes envision an arresting and insightful descent into madness, an odyssey that becomes even more enthralling with each chaotic twist and turn.

The stage is set brilliantly from jumpstreet. Following a cleverly produced behind-the-scenes documentary prologue, “Late Night” lulls viewers into the comforting allures of a 1970s late-night act. The jokes are corny bits delivered with a cheesy comedic zing. A traditional talk show setting takes center stage, jazzed up by the prompted cheers of a semi-engaged audience and other hackneyed flourishes. There is even an Andy Richter-type co-host who only exists to be the bud of numerous jokes.

Cameron and Colin’s well-tempered touches conjure the atmosphere of a Johnny Carson-esque presentation meshed with the flatlining creativity of modern late-night programs (looking at you, James Corden). I found myself laughing harder at this film’s well-articulated parodies than most comedies that release today. The Cairnes’ screenplay displays an astute understanding of the world they are deconstructing, taking numerous opportunities to jab at the overwhelming artificiality perpetrating this platform for entertainment.

The duo’s visceral direction expertly extenuates these bits, whether a character is viewing their asinine actions through a picture-in-picture format or the countless adept cuts to expressive audience reactions. Every frame is captured through the cold gaze of TV cameras filming the episode. I often find the found-footage filmmaking technique to be a cheap gimmick rather than a strength — most films in the sub-genre feel overburdened by their reliance upon a static view of the events onscreen. Here, the found footage touch is an ideal prism for exploring this uneasy world. Even as Jack and his filmmaking team try to paint the image of an easily digestible TV show, they can never entirely hide the falsehoods lingering around the corner.

The overly-produced facade quickly disintegrates into a nightmare distilled for camera fodder. Segments intended to explore spectral realms hit closer to home than expected, hinting at a sinister darkness bubbling under the surface. Cameron and Colin showcase a masterful handling of tone, merging their dissident horror/comedy sensibilities into one well-oiled experience. When the scares finally arrive, the duo’s creativity and reliance upon practical effects unveil several horrific setpieces. Gruesome gore oozes onscreen with buckets of bloodshed, while each demonic encounter discovers fresh avenues for contorting from viewer’s expectations. I am not one to get squeamish during most horror films, yet the scares here surprisingly unnerved me.

What ultimately ties “Late Night with the Devil” together is star David Dastmalchian as Jack Delroy. Dastmaclchain, a career character actor known for portraying eerie figures, delivers a transcendent transformation onscreen. He exudes effortless magnetism in conveying Jack’s onscreen persona, conveying the star power of a man who could emanate camera-grabbing star power in his sleep. As the film unravels, though, Dastmalchian slowly unearths the personal demons haunting Jack and his undying ambition. Dastmalachian captures emotional complexions without ever feeling overwrought; he delivers a performance that consistently grounds the narrative in authentic truths.

I have seen many complaints about the film’s final act. Sure, the narrative ultimately settles for an easy-to-predict conclusion. Still, Dastmalachian and the Carines enrich these moments with more gravitas than most horror contemporaries. “Late Night with the Devil” powerfully renders a searing incitement on chasing superstardom. As Jack risks it all to climb to new platitudes, he descends into a void of oppressive emptiness. I think the film’s ruminations on the all-consuming grasp that fame and callous ambitions can possess are particularly timely compared to influencer culture in the social media age.

“Late Night with the Devil” is equally daring and decisive, delivering a B-movie powerhouse that stands tall above its contemporaries. The film may have left a small dent during its theatrical run, but it’s destined to become a future cult classic.

Matt Conway
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