SXSW 2023 Review: LATE NIGHT WITH THE DEVIL, An Exorcism On Live TV, What Could Go Wrong?
It’s 1977 and TV talk show host Jack Delroy’s (David Dastmalchian) career is on the skids. Once a titan of late-night TV, the tragic death of his wife has left him a shell of his former self, and his ratings are tanking. Desperate to remain relevant and snatch victory from the jaws of obscurity, Night Owls with Jack Delroy has planned a supernatural stunt to kickstart his comeback, but it what Delroy had hoped would be a harmless but entertaining spook show turns into something far more disturbing; and it all happens live and in lurid, living color.
The directing duo of Colin and Cameron Cairnes (100 Bloody Acres, Scare Campaign) present their newest feature, Late Night with the Devil as a warts-and-all rebroadcast of that fateful evening with Jack Delroy’s last gasp goes sideways. Along with the show as it aired, there is a pre-roll with newsreel footage explaining Delroy’s descent into near obscurity, as well as behind-the-scenes footage showing the chaos that was unfolding during the commercial breaks and as the production team was trying to determine what was going on.
In the world of Night Owls with Jack Delroy, the host has invited a number of paranormal experts to display their talents, the more outrageous the better. There is the clairvoyant Christou (Fayssal Bazzi), infamous illusionist cum skeptic, Carmichael Hunt (Ian Bliss), and parapsychologist June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon) and her young ward Lilly (Ingrid Torelli) who appears to be possessed by a malevolent spirit. Delroy is begrudgingly assisted by his announcer Gus McConnell (Rhys Auteri), who – like everyone else, gets far more than he bargained for.
Right from the start, the show goes off the rails with Christou’s act turning very gross and putting the audience and host on edge, but it’s the introduction of Carmichael, the skeptic and Lilly, the possessed girl that really kicks the thing into high gear, eventually threatening to unleash evil into the homes of millions of terrified home viewers.
Dastmalchian has made a name for himself playing oddballs is character roles, but this lead really gives him a chance to show us what he’s got. In a film full of gross out gags, Dastmalchian’s Delroy never plays as though he’s in on the joke; there’s a genuine sense of pathos in his performance, a despair that lingers after the death of his wife. Even while the world he’s created spirals further and further out of control, Delroy remains focused. Dastmalchian brings a feeling of a man defeated, reaching for one last brass ring, and when the ring slips from his grasp, we are with him as he descends into a cosmic madness that feels inevitable.
Don’t worry, it isn’t all dour, there is plenty to satisfy fans of gooier fare. For a film that revels in a ‘70s broadcast aesthetic – the entire film plays as though live through a vintage CRT monitor – Late Night with the Devil spends a lot of effort to make the FX look convincing, and they have a lot of fun with it. Fans of projectile viscous fluids and creepy crawlies getting under their skin will be delighted with what this film has to offer.
While watching Late Night with the Devil I couldn’t help but be reminded of last year’s SXSW breakout hit, Deadstream, as a template for live broadcast gone horribly wrong, though it also shares DNA with cosmic horrors like Rob Zombie’s Lords of Salem, and definitely underground cult classic WNUF Halloween Special. It’s a tricky tonal tightrope the film walks, but it really nails the balance between dread and outrageous visceral horror elements that few films do well.
Late Night with the Devil
- Cameron Cairnes
- Colin Cairnes
- Cameron Cairnes
- Colin Cairnes
- David Dastmalchian
- Laura Gordon
- Ian Bliss