Directed by: Colin Cairnes, Cameron Cairnes
Written by: Colin Cairnes, Cameron Cairnes
Starring: David Dastmalchian, Laura Gordon, Ian Bliss, Fayssal Bazzi, Ingrid Torelli, Rhys Auteri
Released: April 11, 2024
Grade: A

Late Night with the Devil

Given its relative low cost and opportunities to demonstrate creativity, the horror genre has been an effective pathway for young/upcoming Aussie filmmakers hoping to make a name for themselves on the international stage.  Examples this century include the Spierig brothers (Undead), James Wan and Leigh Whannell (Saw), Greg McLean (Wolf Creek), Snowtown (Justin Kurzel), Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), and most recently, the Philippou brothers (Talk to Me).

We’re seeing it again with siblings Cameron and Colin Cairnes and their breakout hit, Late Night with the Devil.  It was shot in Melbourne with a largely Australian cast but, given its a co-production involving funding from overseas, it’s set in the United States to befit the narrative and broaden the film’s international appeal.

While not entirely necessary, a short prologue provides the film’s context.  Jack Delroy (Dastmalchian) is a late-night talk show host who has been toiling away for six years (a good stint) but never has he been able to achieve the fame and ratings of rival Johnny Carson.  Jack’s current TV contract is about to come to an end and, unless something dramatic were to happen, he’s likely to get the boot.

What follows is the footage of an infamous episode that took place on Halloween night 1977.  It was the start of sweeps week and the shows guests included a famous psychic (Bazzi), a vocal sceptic (Bliss), and reluctant psychologist (Gordon) who has recently published a book about a teenage girl (Torelli) in her care who can conjure the devil.  Jack hopes to perform a quasi-exorcism on the show in desperate search of a ratings boost.

Late Night with the Devil provides a refreshing spin on the horror / supernatural genre.  It’s a simple idea but also a very effective one.  We’re just watching an 80-minute episode of a 1970s talk show.  It begins with a monologue, features a band and a joke-telling sidekick (Auteri), and has the cheesy production values we know from that era.  During the show’s short advertisement breaks, grainy behind-the-scenes footage fills the gap so that we continue to follow as events play out in real time.

The Cairnes brothers, supported by cinematographer Matthew Temple, have us believe we’re watching an old, scratchy recording of an actual late-night talk show.  It feels much more credible than a standard horror flick.  Star David Dastmalchian (Dune) is outstanding in creating a lead character who blends charm with desperation.  The supporting characters are richly distinctive with standouts including Ian Bliss (The Matrix) as the sceptic, and Rhys Auteri as the side-kick (making his feature film debut).

Ending on just the right note, Late Night with the Devil is one of the year’s best releases.  Start spreading the word!