Review: ‘Late Night with the Devil’ sells soul and satire 2
A scene from 'Late Night with the Devil'

Review: ‘Late Night with the Devil’ sells soul and satire

'Late Night with the Devil' is a supernatural horror film directed by Cameron and Colin Cairnes that is cleverly presented as an unearthed episode of a 1970s talk show gone awry.
Ralph Revelar Sarza | Apr 16 2024

In the dazzling heyday of late-night TV, where titans like Johnny Carson ruled the airwaves, the landscape was ripe with ambition and longing for stardom. This era serves as the backdrop for “Late Night with the Devil,” a supernatural horror film directed by Cameron and Colin Cairnes that is cleverly presented as an unearthed episode of a 1970s talk show gone awry.

During a spooky Halloween night in 1977, Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian), host of “Night Owls,” a struggling syndicated late-night talk show, takes a daring gamble in an attempt to boost ratings. By bringing a girl believed to be possessed onto the live show, the broadcast takes a terrifying twist.

Filmed in the “found footage” style, “Late Night with the Devil” incorporates long-lost master tape recordings and backstage footage from the ill-fated episode. This approach immerses the theater audience and seamlessly integrates them into the TV show featured within the film. The movie is shot almost entirely as a live broadcast, delivering the sensation of witnessing a late-night show unfold before your eyes — an engrossing cinematic experience that captures the perspective of a TV viewer.

However, this illusion of being part of the live audience is occasionally broken when “Night Owls” goes into commercial breaks to show behind-the-scenes drama that disrupts the “found footage” feel. Nevertheless, this technique of involving the audience is an often-overlooked way to build tension beyond the big screen, similar to the effect achieved by films and TV shows with characters breaking the fourth wall.

The poster for the film at the cinema I visited proudly displays its 100% rating from Rotten Tomatoes, which I found ridiculous. While I understand studios using Rotten Tomatoes ratings for social media posts, putting it on a physical cinema poster feels unnecessary, especially considering that these ratings can change over time. Nonetheless, I believe “Late Night with the Devil” is overhyped, but I don’t think it’s overrated. It deserves the praise it’s currently getting from mainstream film critics.

However, this is the type of film that I hesitate to recommend to many people I know, even though I personally enjoyed it. While the film has generated significant buzz, viewers expecting jump scares and typical horror fare may find themselves disappointed. “Late Night with the Devil” generally avoids the most familiar cheap thrills but still incorporates them occasionally, often for satirical purposes. Instead, it offers a unique, deeper, and more unsettling exploration of psychological terror and disturbing themes.

I went into the theater knowing that many people didn’t like the ending, and considering the film was overhyped, I didn’t have high expectations. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself liking the divisive wrap-up. It felt abrupt, but it also felt sufficient.

What “Late Night with the Devil” perhaps lacks in what some may perceive as effective horror elements, it makes up for in other compelling aspects. The film is elevated by Dastmalchian’s gripping performance and the meticulous production that authentically captures the '70s vibe. His portrayal of Delroy captures the essence of a charismatic host grappling with unfulfilled dreams and mounting desperation. The captivating depth and complexity of the acting immerse viewers in Delroy's inner turmoil and relentless pursuit of success in the cutthroat world of late-night television.

I'm a sucker for how Hollywood often overuses both black-and-white and color in a single film to juxtapose two opposing narrative perspectives, and “Late Night with the Devil” exemplifies this technique. From the varied aspect ratios to the intentionally crafted, somewhat cheap-looking special effects that mimic the limitations of achieving decent effects back in the '70s, every element in this movie feels purposeful.

The film provides a sharp critique of TV networks' fixation on ratings and exposes the “devils” lurking within the industry. It effectively delivers its satirical message by showcasing the disturbing willingness of some individuals to sacrifice lives and morality in pursuit of the rating game, which reflects real-life quests for fame. This thought-provoking social commentary extends beyond its '70s setting and resonates with contemporary issues like corporate greed and ethical compromises in the tech industry, as well as political opportunism and the manipulation of public perception in the digital age.

“Late Night with the Devil” may have flaws and may not appeal to everyone, but it pushes us to confront uncomfortable truths about our society's obsession with validation. Additionally, the film prompts us to reconsider our understanding of what constitutes effective horror by challenging conventional norms and expectations within the genre.

Ralph Revelar Sarza is a freelance film critic and a metadata development specialist at The Big Dipper Digital Content and Design, Incorporated, an ABS-CBN company. This review was originally published on the author's blog, “”