Terror On Your Television Screen [SXSW 2023]
Dastmalchian carries “Late Night with the Devil” as an ironclad conversationalist who smiles his way into America’s hearts, which isn’t entirely a con. Still, distress under his patted makeup and slick attire burns behind jittery eyes. Jack is desperate to stay on TV Guide covers, which becomes more evident as he keeps asking producer Leo (Josh Quong Tart) if he’s meddling with electric wires or tweaking things behind the scenes, pushing off supernatural warnings. Dastmalchian carries scene after scene with his ability to soften pure chaos, whether downplaying psychic Christou’s (Fayssal Bazzi) physical deterioration after a draining encounter or calming viewers after meeting cult survivor Lilly D’Abo’s (Ingrid Torelli) split demonic personality. Jack Delroy has the wit of Leno, Carson’s gab, and a late-night mogul’s stress-free demeanor, which comes so easily to the doesn’t-break-a-sweat Dastmalchian.
As for the horror elements, they’re a tad on the weaker side. “Late Night with the Devil” plays like a public access exorcism but takes its time getting to the more nightmarish elements of outright possession evidence on camera (and not all SFX execute on high). Something like “The Cleansing Hour” plays with the same formula — a livestream exorcist faces an actual demon who wants to expose the fraud — but sustains biting horror throughout. “Late Night with the Devil” is more tuned to replicating ’70s horror in tone and tempo, as interview segments become acts separated by black-and-white “raw” footage during commercial breaks (strangely edited and shot from multiple angles). It’s not savvy enough to hold its cards tight, and the screenplay reveals its intentions early, as a prolonged buildup with minimal frights still raises Jack’s ratings higher and higher. Skeptic man of science Carmichael Hunt (Ian Bliss) keeps interrupting Jack’s show to debunk paranormal displays, and while the naysayer is well-acted, the delays become less thrilling until a hypnotizing third act. It’s all meant to enhance the inevitable crash when “Late Night with the Devil” reveals its blasphemous closing guest, and does, but at a detriment to adrenalized excitement.
Cameron and Colin Cairnes succeed in developing a time-warp slice of Halloween spookiness, a vessel for David Dastmalchian to prove himself (for those who don’t know) as a commanding lead performer. It’s never the scariest “live-action” descent into the paranormal but works as a kooky talk show with underworld loomings from a more wholesome era. “Late Night with the Devil” is another take on something like “Starry Eyes” and all other horror commentaries about the sacrifices some make for popularity. Dastmalchian drips with charismatic attraction as Jack Delroy, which provides the perfect cover for sinister reveals about climbs to television infamy. Although it’s got momentum issues, it still meets Halloween marathon requirements worth the devil’s American talk show debut.
/Film Rating: 7 out of 10