sat 22/06/2024

Late Night With the Devil review - indie-horror punches above its weight | reviews, news & interviews

Late Night With the Devil review - indie-horror punches above its weight

Late Night With the Devil review - indie-horror punches above its weight

Controversy over AI-generated images aside, this is a wholly original film

Possessed: Ingrid Torelli, David Dastmalchian and Laura Gordon in 'Late Night With the Devil'Vertigo Releasing

In Late Night With the Devil, light entertainment rubs shoulders with demonic forces on a talk show. It isn't quite the homerun its 97% Rotten Tomatoes rating would suggest, but this Australian indie production punches above its weight with an effective found-footage concept and lived-in 1970s setting. Regrettably, excitement for the movie's long-awaited cinema release has been dampened by controversy over its makers' use of AI-generated images.

An opening montage sequence swiftly establishes the premise. Televisions feed footage of the Vietnam War and satanic panic into the homes of Americans along with soft programming in the form of late-night talk shows. Enter Night Owls host Jack Delroy, a beloved second tier TV-personality: “I know my parents are at home in the couch watching… Johnny Carson!” (cue laughter). One of the joys of the film is how David Dastmalchian (pictured below) hits a perfect note of suave and smarmy in his performance as the side-burned, beige-suited Delroy.

Late Night takes place on Halloween 1972 as Delroy attempts to claw back his weaning viewership with a spooky special. Guests include parapsychologist June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon) and her 11-year-old patient, Lilly (Ingrid Torelli), the survivor of a satanic cult and supposed host to a demon. As paranormal chaos ensues, viewing figures spike and the show's producers have the “biggest TV event since the moon landing” on their hands – but at what cost?

This is a film about a Faustian bargain made in exchange for success in the entertainment industry. In the backstory about Delroy’s membership in a shadowy cult, Late Night almost feels like a retelling of Rosemary’s Baby from John Cassavetes's perspective. Along with Immaculate, it’s the second film in cinemas right now directly inspired by Roman Polanski’s 1968 classic.

What has made Late Night a hit is how it feels like a real labour of love, a film crafted with detail and flair. Particularly impressive is the found footage style that lets us see the “aired tape” in a steady frame but also brings us behind the scenes with shaky hand-held footage. In these moments the dialogue is rapid and the rising tension becomes almost palpable.

Directors Colin and Cameron Cairnes love for '70s horror is felt in the shrewdly directed possession scene featuring a demon called Mr Wiggles, echoing Regan McNeil’s Captain Howdy in The Exorcist. The use of practical effects is an homage to the era, showing the terrifying possibilities of make-up and clever lighting. It’s a complete tonal change, then, when the finale goes full CGI, a misstep that squanders the realistic atmosphere the film has meticulously built.   

Late Night has been hotly anticipated since it screened at last year's SXSW, but upon release it has found itself in the centre of controversy as speculation grew online that AI was used in certain graphics. The Cairnes brothers released a statement that confirmed that they had “experimented with AI for three still images which we edited further and ultimately appear as very brief interstitials in the film”.

The news was received poorly. Probably because the film has been the kind of indie success story that feels like a testament to original, well-crafted filmmaking, the revelation that AI was used has left a slight feeling of betrayal, like finding out your rustic hand-made mug was mass-produced.

Boycotting the film entirely would surely be a disservice to the hundreds of artists who worked on the film, but you could equally argue that so is using sloppy AI-generated art. Regardless, it feels like an oddly fitting controversy to surround a film about an insidious entity infiltrating our television sets. 

David Dastmalchian hits a perfect note of suave and smarmy

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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