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'Late Night with the Devil' review: A talk show takes a demonic turn in energized thriller

Courtesy of IFC Films


Thanks to the folks over at Blumhouse and the expansive “Conjuring” universe, demonic creature features have never been more prevalent in pop culture. Countless films over the last decade have tried their darndest to unearth wild tales that are supposedly based on true events from the past 50 years. Enter “Late Night with the Devil,” a cautionary horror tale set in 1977 where struggling talk show host Jack Delroy (an enigmatic David Dastmalchian) broadcasts a séance with Satan into millions of TV sets across the globe. Writer-directors Cameron and Colin Cairnes do an impressive job at tricking the audience into thinking this fictional tale is real (everything from the production design and grainy VHS aesthetics contribute to that mindset), delivering an inspired, though not entirely gripping genre piece that, if not for Dastmalchian, might’ve struggled to hold its own.


Dastmalchain is best known for playing oddball supporting roles ala the Polka Dot man in James Gunn’s “The Suicide Squad,” or the creepy neighbor in “Prisoners,” so it’s nice to see him branch out in the lead role as Jack, who we learn in the opening prologue is getting hammered in the ratings by his timeslot rival Johnny Carson. His wife recently passed away from lung cancer and the film begins with him trying to make a comeback during sweeps’ week. His show is on life support, and the annual Halloween special is all he’s got to make an impression for the waning sponsors.


Lucky for him, the program is stacked with all types of interesting characters: There’s Christou the psychic (Fayssal Bazzi) who gets hauled into an ambulance after projectile vomiting black slime while Jack’s second guest, a paranormal skeptic and notorious debunker named Carmichael (Ian Bliss) ridicules the whole event. And the third slot brings out parapsychologist June (Laura Gordon) and the subject of her book “Conversations with the Devil,” Lilly (Ingrid Torelli), who grew up in a cult and allegedly has a demon named “Mr. Wriggles” living inside her. This is where the show really takes a turn.


“Ladies and gentlemen, please stay tuned for a live television first, as we attempt to commune with the devil. But not before a word from our sponsors!” Jack professes into the main camera before the movie interjects black-and-white B-roll footage while his crew eagerly sets up the sequence. And it’s a gripping series of events as the Cairnes keeps the séance grounded in a way that doesn’t go over-the-top, but it’s missing that flair and dramatic tension you may remember from the first “Conjuring” film. Still, Dastmalchian is hamming it up and keeps the movie anchored, even as the things detour into a strange, obscure rabbit hole in the final ten minutes. The climax has the benefit of some impressive visual effects, but the movie hits its stride when staying true to the era in which its set and not trying to throw half-baked commentaries on the morals of right and wrong.


Grade: B 


LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL opens in theaters Friday, March 22nd.


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