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CIFF 2023: Late Night with the Devil

October 17, 2023


It wouldn’t be the Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) without their “After Dark” programming. Knowing full well that there’s an audience for films that would qualify within the horror genre, those involved in programming are smart to include them. With typically dark or disturbing content, such films have usually been programmed after 9pm, offering their target audience with something more in line with such proclivities. That doesn’t mean the films that compose this category are always good. Some years I’ve found myself wondering how a “After Dark” selections were chosen for festival programming. Sometimes, you’ll find a unique twist on a horror subgenre, which is the case with “Late Night with the Devil”, a clever update on demon possession with a very specific setting.

Written, directed and edited by Australian siblings, Cameron and Colin Cairnes and shot entirely in Melbourne, “Late Night with the Devil” that posits, “What would happen if a demon was a guest on a late night talk show?” I’m hooked with such a question and I’m absolutely impressed with how the Cairnes brothers deftly inject acutely timed comedy with certain horror expectations.

Set on Halloween Night 1977 during the start of network sweeps, the inventive story here revolves around Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian), the host of a fictional late late night talk show called “Night Owls” is desperate for a boost in ratings. Jack’s popularity was huge at one point, but still never came close to the stardom of Johnny Carson and his life took a hard left turn when his actress wife, Madeline (Georgina Haig), died from lung cancer.

On this live television broadcast from New York City, the first since his loss, Jack has guests lined up that fittingly tie in with the macabre holiday. There’s a flamboyant psychic named Christou (Fayssal Bazzi) who claims he can commune with the other side, a doubting skeptic (Ian Bliss) who’s on hand to throw shade on any inclination of purported supernatural or paranormal activity, and then there’s Lillie (an unsettling Ingrid Torelli) the sole survivor of an alleged Satanic mass suicide, who is accompanied by her handler, Dr. June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon). That’s quite a lineup. What could possibly go wrong?



As the film opens, the narrator tells us that tape of this live studio recording was recently found and what we’re about to see has never been seen before. Thankfully, “Late Night with the Devil” feels less like a found footage film and more like unearthed archival footage. It’s an approach that the Cairnes brothers realize by playing with aspect ratios, graininess, and switching from vivid 70s colors (yellow mustard, shiny orange, and burnt umber) of the live footage to black-and-white film of the set when the cameras aren’t rolling. The authenticity of the film’s mise-en-scene can especially be felt thanks to a combination of Otello Stolfo’s production design and costume designs by Steph Hooke. With those elements so keenly established, it crafts a path for the directors to deliver a tone that takes itself so seriously that it’s humorous and also unnerving at the same time.

David Dastmalchian, who serves as one of seven producers here, carries the film with commitment and confidence. While he’s long been a “that guy” character actor in the superhero (“The Dark Knight” and “Ant-Man”), horror (the recent “The Last Voyage of the Demeter”), science fiction (“Blade Runner 2049” and “Dune”) and horror (“The Bogeyman”), this is likely to be the place where folks are going to see his acting chops really stretch. This is standout work from Dastmalchian and it’s crazy how he grasps Jack Delroy’s obsessive yet insecure psyche. He should definitely be given more lead roles, even if he stays in genre films.

It’s best to go into “Late Night with the Devil” cold, knowing very little except it’s setting, timeframe, and general setup. How it goes about what it’s about is the most intriguing aspect of the feature. It takes what you think are familiar tropes and characters and winks, knowing full well there will be subversion. Some of that subversion doesn’t always work, but much respect should be given for where the story goes, even though the third act may not truly work for viewers. Regardless, it’s an ending that will be discussed long after viewing.

An international co-production of Australia and the United Arab Emirates, “Late Night with the Devil” had its world premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW), back in March and recently played to an exuberant packed house at Chicago’s Music Box Theatre as joint collaboration between CIFF and the theatre’s annual Music Box of Horrors. It’s uncertain how Cinetic Media will be distributing the film in North America, but I can easily see earning cult classic status and screening late at night in old school movie houses.




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