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Film: Late night with the devil  
Cast: David Dastmalchian, Ian Bliss, Laura Gordon, Fayssal Bazzi, Josh Quong Tart, Ingrid Torelli, Georgina Haig, Christopher Kirby
Director: Cameron Cairnes, Colin Cairnes
Rating: 2.5/5
Runtime: 92 min.

Set in 1977, the movie envisions a commercial broadcast network emerging as a competitor to the reigning king of late night talk shows in the `70s, Johnny Carson. The rival, Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian), who has climbed the rung to National level from a lowly local Chicago talk show, is doing his best to get his ratings sky-high. But even after 6 seasons he hasn’t been able to overtake Carson. A quarterly event wherein the ratings company decides on what a network can charge for airtime becomes an opportunity for all networks to get as outrageous as they can so that they can increase their ratings. Jack and producer Leo (Josh Quong Tart), have been doing supernaturally-themed Halloween broadcasts with a costume contest but “Night Owl,” took a pause following Jack’s wife Madeleine’s tragic death from cancer. Because of the break, ratings opposite Carson nose-dived, leading to the special where they decide to go for broke by inviting a psychic/mentalist Christou (Fayssal Bazzi), a conjurer/sceptic Carmichael (Ian Bliss), bestselling parapsychologist Dr. June Ross-Mitchell (Laura Gordon) and her ward Lilly (Ingrid Torelli), the only survivor of a satanic cult`s mass suicide during a standoff with police. An intriguing mix of guests who believe in their own versions of the paranormal and supernatural.

Things just go haywire from thereon. Wild, weird and gory, the shenanigans on TV has to be seen to be believed. One of the guests even vomited some kind of black goo and another had worms coming out of every part of his body. But the in-house audience just stays put raising questions about the premise that this is a found-footage set-up. It just gets bizarre and incredulous as the runtime escalates. The narrative in no way feels like a found-footage movie. All attempts to segregate found footage stuff from current storytelling frames by the discretionary use of B&W and color, may help in delineation but it doesn’t get us involved in any way. Everything seems to fall into place like the directors ordered so there’s hardly any room for suspense or surprises. The shaky camera work and occasional technical glitches lend authenticity to the shenanigans happening on the set though.

The movie is set over the course of a single episode, which went live on Halloween night, 1977. The prologue itself is a dead giveaway as to what will transpire in the next 81 min. The experience would have been much more involving if that prologue just wasn’t there and the audience was left to wonder what would transpire next. As a result there’s no real sense of mystery throughout. The broadcast with people talking to Jack on the air about what happened in the years leading up to the disaster, is fairly interesting. The found footage comes mainly from the studio TV cameras used to videotape the show. The footage in B&W looks scarred enough to look authentic. Also, production design, costume, make-up and house-band music give us a general understanding of that period.

This one is a richly imagined original idea though. The Australian director duo may not have been able to pull it off convincingly but there’s no doubting the fullness of the craft. The strange and disturbing world of a para-normal disaster being telecast looks fairly good.  From its opening moments, we see documentary-like footage with well-crafted vintage aesthetics, grainy visual style, and wood-paneled sets. The Cairnes brothers, who both write and direct, skillfully capture the essence of low-budget 70s television.

Cinematographer Matthew Temple’s lighting fits in with the 70’s grimy look, the costumes by Stephanie Hooke fit the period quite well and the production design by Otello Stolfo gets the 70’s TV ambience right. For purists, the fact that writing-directing team of Cameron and Colin Cairnes admitted to using “AI” “art” in their production design, may come as a downer.

Dastmalchian as Jack, manages to work in some empathy when looking vulnerable for a brief while. But his jokes and banter in his previous hosting job come across as tedious. He certainly doesn’t appear to have either the personality or the suavity to make his self delusions pay the way Carson does. So by no means is he believable as Carson’s closest competitor.

Cameron and Colin Cairnes create an intriguing horror story of the supernatural. Setting it on Halloween night, on a late night TV show back in the 70s, and getting the Devil to show up is inspired creativity. It’s not exactly scary but it goes all out on the tropes and the practical effects are pretty good. This may not be an out and out horror movie but it does manage to get you to take a step back when the goo gets flying!

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