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When you’re unfortunate enough to love found footage horror movies, you find yourself sorting through a lot of garbage. You trawl through the depths of the Prime Video horror section, desperately searching for that one hidden gem, the movie that will restore your faith in the format, the movie that captures the unsettling reality of “The Blair Witch Project” or the slow-burn terror of “Paranormal Activity.” 

But because found footage horror — movies shot to look like they are existing “real” documents — can be produced with a couple bucks and some nearby woods, the ratio of good-to-bad is skewed, to put it mildly. If you’re like me and love the inherent promise of the format so much that you’re willing to wade through mountains of garbage to find the occasional diamond, it starts to become downright masochistic after awhile.

But then a movie like “Late Night With the Devil” rolls around and reminds you: oh yeah, these movies can be pretty damn good. And they’re especially damn good when they try something completely different. And even though there are shades of the “Ghostwatch” and “WNUF Halloween” TV specials in directors Cameron and Colin Cairnes’ new movie, it’s very much its own unique spin on the genre: a found footage horror movie that actually does something different and feels all the more rewarding for it.

A Slow Descent Into A Nightmare

Like those above-mentioned films, “Late Night With the Devil” isn’t a “teens run through the forest yelling while someone shakes trees” movie. It presents itself as an artifact, an “actual” lost and rediscovered piece of ephemera. In this case, it’s an episode of a 1977 talk show hosted by Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian), a struggling comedian who can never quite match Johnny Carson and has resorted to outlandish gimmicks to boost his flagging ratings. 

For the first half of the movie, the Cairnes wisely takes their time: we endure a fairly unspectacular talk show (behind-the-scenes footage supplies background and additional details during the “commercial breaks”) and watch as Delroy tries to squeeze watchable TV out of a series of special guests on his annual Halloween special. And wouldn’t you believe that one of those guests is a doctor treating a young girl who is apparently possessed by a demon?

Yes, things go wrong, and yes, “Late Night With the Devil” is ultimately a gooey and goopey good time, albeit one with just enough raw terror to leave you rattled. And it certainly helps that Dastmalchian, an increasingly empathetic and fascinating actor, is utterly convincing as Delroy, whose attempts to keep his show rolling through the increasingly chaotic events surrounding him provides the film its most entertaining (and ultimately unnerving) spark. Dastmalchian truly feels like he belongs on a ’70s talk show, nailing the mannerisms and delivery of the period. He’s backed up by stellar production and costume design, which recreate the period with enough mundane accuracy that it fools the brain just often enough. Even if the whole thing looks a wee bit too digital, the film ultimately feels enough like an artifact to get under the skin and feel like you’re watching something you shouldn’t be watching.

What The Hell Are You Watching?

As an exacting recreation of ’70s television being presented to us as a long-lost tape where something very bad happened, “Late Night With the Devil” is already more ambitious and interesting than the average found footage horror movie. But in its third act, the film takes a swerve that separates it from the pack. As characters revisit the footage from earlier in the broadcast, casting events in new (and unsettling) lights, the walls begin to break down. Reality is called into question. The film seemingly destroys the illusion it has so carefully built, but then makes it clear that was the point all along. What the hell are you watching? Was that real? Was it just you that saw that, or did everyone see that? More found footage horror should make the viewer question the reality of what they’re watching. After all, isn’t that the whole appeal of a cursed videotape?

One could nitpick aspects of the film, but the biggest flaws are inherent in the format (much like how H.P. Lovecraft’s epistolary horror tales ultimately ask the reader to ignore how the author found time to write the document in question). Who the heck is filming that behind-the-scenes footage? It doesn’t matter. You roll with it because the rest of the movie works. If last year’s “Deadstream” was the traditional found footage horror movie given a jolt of fresh life and energy from filmmakers who clearly care about the format, “Late Night With the Devil” is proof that there’s still new corners to explore in the most abused section of horror fandom. It makes all those bad found footage horror movies you suffer through worth it, because it means you found this one.

Read this next: 14 Horror Movie Flops That Became Cult Classics

The post Late Night With The Devil Will Restore Your Faith In Found Footage Horror Movies [SXSW] appeared first on /Film.

/Film – Late Night With The Devil Will Restore Your Faith In Found Footage Horror Movies [SXSW]
Author: Jacob Hall
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March 13, 2023

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