Sunday, November 5, 2023

Don't Touch That Dial: Late Night with the Devil (2023) [Telluride Horror Show 2023]

Directors: Cameron Cairnes, Colin Cairnes

Notable Cast: David Dastmalchian, Laura Gordon, Ian Bliss, Fayssal Bazzi, Ingrid Torelli, Rhys Auteri, Georgina Haig, Josh Quong Tart, Christopher Kirby, Steve Mouzakis, Gaby Seow, Michael Ironside


A dedication to the gimmick is always a welcome change of pace from the usual mainstream, overly noted-film fodder. Late Night with the Devil, the latest film from directors Cameron and Colin Cairnes, is absolutely dedicated to its gimmick.


It starts like a documentary about a fictionalized 70s late-night talk show host Jack Delroy. Then, it quickly becomes a “lost” television show episode where wild, horrific events happen to Jack and his guests. It’s found footage to a certain degree, but the choices around replicating the style of a 70s late-night show fully embrace the gimmick to an impressive end. Embracing its style with vigor while delivering a building tension and underpinned dramatic sadness makes Late Night with the Devil one of those cinematic experiences that sticks with you. 


Does its narrative always make sense with its intentional style choices? No, but goddamn, is the ride for Late Night with the Devil worth taking. 


From its sets to the title cards that cut from commercials to the show or how Jack Delroy delivers some of his punchlines, the Cairnes’ are out to give this film a vibe. On the surface, it’s a ton of fun to see. The quick banter of the script, where a skeptic magician (played by the incredible actor Ian Bliss) goes toe to toe with a medium and a possibly possessed girl and her guardian, drives the film forward and aligns its style with its script. This creates a fun and often charismatic setup. 


At first, the material does have a silly tone, but I would be hard-pressed to call the film a comedy, even if that's inherently part of the gimmick of its premise. It goes hand in hand with the tonality. Still, the building tension underneath its talk-show punchlines continually builds to the point that the comedy maintains a relatively desperate feeling by the end, which then feeds into a finale that seeps into surrealism. It’s a fascinating and subtle approach to its comedic beats and absolutely feeds the script, the narrative, and the performance from Dastmalchian. 


Yet, despite all of these great things, Dastmalchian anchors everything in Late Night with the Devil. The man has been a stalwart of genre cinema for what feels like decades, and all of his fantastic small performances have built up to such a phenomenal year in 2023. Late Night with the Devil is a cornerstone of why he deserves all of the praise. He embodies the late-night host with the utmost confidence while the Cairnes’ smartly use his ability to be relatable as an everyman (even in the role of a “famous” character) to maximize how the character’s personal story intertwines with the plot and style. Although I’ve loved numerous performances from Dastmalchian, his work as Jack Delroy might be the most intricate and impressive performance of his career. 


Horror fans will definitely want to immediately tune into Late Night with the Devil when it gets a release via IFC Films and Shudder later on down the line because the combination of its clever angle and a star-making performance by Dastmalchian make it one of the best films of the year - regardless of the genre. The horror elements are pleasantly blended with its documentary-style structure, and the manner in which everything slides into a nightmarish surrealism by its third act is something to appreciate on an artistic level. 


For a low-budget genre flick, there are so many stars that align with Late Night with the Devil, and everyone should watch…and don’t touch that dial. 


Written By Matt Malpica Reifschneider

1 comment:

  1. Radiant brilliance in your post! Insightful, well-articulated, and a pleasure to read. Thanks for sharing your valuable perspective.