The expression “desperate times call for desperate measures” is common for good reason. Desperation often leads people to stretch the boundaries of their morals—or ignore those lines altogether—in an effort to acquire something they wish to obtain. That something could be as vital as food for sustenance, which is understandable in a sphere of scarcity. But oftentimes, it is far more trivial, like adoration from strangers who have parasocial attachments to them. They want the most viewers, the biggest platform, the unyielding attention.

People will lie, manipulate, kill, and exploit to satisfy those kinds of goals, sometimes at the expense of others. Exploring these sins is recurrent in horror narratives. But I’ve never seen anyone do what director/writer brothers Colin and Cameron Cairnes do in Late Night with the Devil. This found-footage flick, with a haunting and sensational leading performance by David Dastmalchian as Jack Delroy, takes us to Halloween night in 1977 to watch sensationalist efforts spiral into a demonic train wreck on a late-night television show. 

Late Night with the Devil honors films like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby alongside the effervescent appeal of ‘70s-era late-night TV legends à la Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett. Its found footage narrative successfully blends humor, heartbreak, and dread, all of which are bolstered by the glorious style of gore that only Cronenbergian-style practical effects can offer. From its opening scene that puts the state of the world and the construction and crumbling of late-night host Jack Delroy’s life and career into focus to its absolutely batshit ending, Late Night with the Devil draws you in and refuses to release its grip. 

The film follows Delroy’s last-ditch effort to save his television show, which is rapidly falling out of favor with viewers. He’s grappling with a personal tragedy and just can’t seem to nab the #1 spot. His membership in a mysterious arcane organization and wacky on-air efforts still don’t move the rankings needle. With cancellation and Satanic panic creeping over the horizon, Delroy and his production staff pull one last stunt. They plan a Halloween episode with several strange guests who will both mesh together and hate each other. 

Late Night with the Devil poster showing a man in a suit with fire instead of a head
IFC Films

There’s Christou the medium (Fayssal Bazzi), Carmichael the former magician and supernatural skeptic (Ian Bliss), and Dr. June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon), a parapsychologist and author. The latter is the true key to Delroy’s trick, thanks to her patient Lily (Ingrid Torelli). She’s a teenager with a harrowing backstory and an unsavory spirit living inside her. Jack pulls a fast one on the good doctor, coercing her in front of a live-audience to do something never seen before on live television: summon and commune with the Devil. This can’t go wrong in any way, right? Of course it can and it does in spectacular real-time fashion. We get a holistic and voyeuristic view of it all from two perspectives: in front of and behind the camera.

The film runs at a cool 93 minutes, which could have felt sluggish with a less captivating cast. David Dastmalchian is the foundation and master of this narrative. He brings Delroy’s smarmy and smug yet oddly endearing persona to life with every wide-eyed stare of disbelief and scathing remark. He’s a clear connoisseur of the genre, so much so that his Fangoria article about regional TV horror talk shows caught the eyes of the Cairnes brothers, leading to his casting. Anyone who’s seen Dastmalchian in, well, anything knows this leading role has been long overdue.

IFC Films

The new (to US audiences, anyway) standout in this film is undoubtedly Torelli as Lily. Her soulless stares and unsettling smirks into the camera will send chills down even the most fearless viewers’ spines… and that’s before the titular Devil takes over. Her quiet yet commanding screen presence slowly pushes an already eerie atmosphere over the edge of destruction. Torelli’s physicality and delivery play perfectly alongside Laura Gordon’s mounting perturbance and controlled panic. It is easily one of the best supporting horror performances in recent memory. 

Late Night with the Devil’s ending feels a bit rushed and convoluted. However, the big creative swings and pure chaos help soothe those issues. Questions are left unanswered, and that’s okay. Instead of tying up loose ends into a neat knot, things are delightfully unraveled and uncertain. Deliciously dark, frighteningly fun, super strange, and full of thoughtful thematic choices, Late Night with the Devil is poised for horror classic status.

Late Night with the Devil hits theaters on March 22 with a later release on Shudder on April 19.

Late Night with the Devil