review

Late Night with the Devil review: Clever and impressive Australian horror movie

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Late Night with the Devil is in cinemas on April 11
Late Night with the Devil is in cinemas on April 11 Credit: Maslow

When Australian horror movie Late Night with the Devil was released in the US last month, it grossed $US666,666 on its third day. It was a Sunday.

The irony wasn’t lost on anyone, and the distributor rushed out press releases, as if the devil himself had endorsed this buzzy scarefest that has spent the past year making its way around the film festival circuit and is, this week, finally in general release in Australia.

When it premiered at SXSW in March 2023, Stephen King called it “absolutely brilliant”.

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While Late Night with the Devil doesn’t have traditional jump scares or the slow drip of suspense that will make your blood run cold, this clever movie from filmmakers Colin and Cameron Cairnes (100 Bloody Acres, Scare Campaign) is plenty jaw-clenching. And it’s very, very entertaining.

Late Night with the Devil is in cinemas on April 11
David Dastmalchian is known for his supporting roles in Christopher Nolan movies. Credit: Maslow

The film works almost like a documentary, with a narrator introducing the story of Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian), a comedian and host who found great success with his late night talk show in the 1970s.

Delroy had come from Chicago radio but soon made a mark on national TV. But despite the award nominations and the acclaim, he could never beat Johnny Carson in the ratings. And then he is struck by tragedy when his wife Madeleine (Georgina Haig), a non-smoker, is diagnosed with lung cancer and dies.

Now six years into Night Owls, Delroy’s ratings are on the slide, advertising is down and there’s the threat of cancellation. So, Delroy and his producer cook up a Halloween special with guests linked to the occult, including a psychic (Fayssal Bazzi) who claims to speak to the dead and Carmichael (Ian Bliss), a sceptic and former “conjurer” who tries to debunk claims of supernatural gifts.

But the piece de resistance is the wonderfully named Lilly D’Abo (Ingrid Torelli), a young girl and sole survivor of a demonic suicide cult. She is sometimes possessed by a demon Lilly calls Mr Wriggles, who is summoned by Dr June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon), a parapsychologist.

Late Night with the Devil is in cinemas on April 11
A demonic possession on live TV is never a good idea. Credit: Maslow

All the action takes place on the night of the live broadcast, and because the narrator tells us what we’re about to see is footage from that fateful evening, Late Night with the Devil becomes a game of expectations. When will the penny drop, when will the blood be shed?

The Cairnes’ recreation of a 1970s late night talk show set looks spectacular – the vintage colours and aesthetics has depth, aided, no doubt, by the use of lights from that era.

The filmmakers were apparently inspired in part by watching Don Lane in the 1980s and you can see traces of that persona in Dastmalchian’s Delroy, an inoffensive, sometimes smarmy, ambitious but generally likeable host.

But he is marked by pain and loss and that becomes increasingly obvious as the story progresses, thanks to Dastmalchian’s great performance.

There are few genuine surprises but that doesn’t appear to be the film’s purpose. It’s not trying to shock you.

Its smart use of mostly practical effects work and its disciplined approach makes for a sometimes tense, often funny and always impressive horror film that even scaredy cats will appreciate.

Rating: 3/5

Late Night with the Devil is in cinemas on April 11

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