Credit: IFC Films/Shudder
by Matt Lynch Featured Film Genre Views

Late Night with the Devil — Colin Cairnes & Cameron Cairnes

March 22, 2024

With so much modern horror based in ’80s VHS nostalgia or mired in transmuting trauma, it’s enough that Late Night with the Devil’s set of references feels relatively refreshing. Combining found footage with a helping of is-this-for-real pseudo-documentary (cf. Ghostwatch or Blair Witch) and placed squarely in a Nick At Nite-rerun arena, what comes out is mostly goofy and never particularly chilling, but it’s also perfectly pitched and amusing front to back.

It’s 1977, and Jack Dorsey (David Dastmalchain), the host of the struggling-for-ratings late-night talk show Night Owls, has decided that since sweeps week coincides with Halloween, that night’s live show will be spook central, with a psychic (Fayssal Bazzi), an Amazing Randi-like paranormal debunker (Ian Bliss) and a Dr. Joyce Brothers-esque woman (Laura Gordon) who’s brought along her newest patient, a young girl who might be possessed by a demon (Ingrid Torelli). A somewhat clunky introduction to all this (narrated by Michael Ironside) informs that Dorsey, in his pursuit of ratings, has been up to some shady stuff at the Bohemian Grove that may or may not have contributed to the sudden death of his wife from cancer. What we’re about to see, allegedly, was a live broadcast that went horribly wrong and was buried by the network forever… until now.

Most of the film is powered by Dastmalchain’s committed performance; he toes the line perfectly between somewhat shady showbiz guy and Dorsey’s jocular front-facing on-stage persona, which, when it begins to crack, gives him some very genuine goosebumps. We can’t help but guess that Jack’s actions are what brought all the ensuing chaos about, but darn it, he seems like exactly the kind of guy mom and dad brought into their living rooms just before bedtime every night after the news. The rest of the cast is a lot of fun too, especially Bliss as the cigar-chomping skeptic using every opportunity to ham it up. He gets the best segment of the film, too, as he attempts to hypnotize Dorsey’s sidekick Gus (Rhys Auteri), with literally gut-wrenching results.

All that said, Late Night with the Devil does get repetitive after a spell. Jack introduces a guest, something goes scarily wrong, and then everyone sort of resets after a commercial break (unfortunately, the clearly limited budget here didn’t allow for some fake vintage ads, but what can you do?). At barely 90 minutes, the Cairnes’ film can’t help but feel sluggish, and that’s not necessarily helped by an essentially preordained climax. Although never unsatisfying, Late Night with the Devil ultimately has only one place to go, and viewers are sort of left to just sit there waiting for it. But it’s also consistently clever, and sometimes — especially these days — clever is enough.

DIRECTOR: Colin Cairnes & Cameron Cairnes;  CAST: David Dastmalchian, Laura Gordon, Fayssal Bazzi, Ian Bliss;  DISTRIBUTOR: IFC Films;  IN THEATERS: March 22;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 33 min.