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Late Night With the Devil: A Nation Possessed

What is it about the 1970's that strikes such an eerie chord? Perhaps it is the grainy specter of analog film and the crackle of low fidelity audio, the rash of serial murders dominating the nightly news, or simply muted pallets evoking a time that has passed. There is even a phenomenon of a community of people who collectively recall their fear of old production logos at the end of TV shows during their childhood in the 70s. There are two distinct examples that those with the phobia dubbed the Viacom "V of Doom" and the Screen Gems "S from Hell".

Whatever this intangible feeling may be, Late Night with the Devil taps into it deep. An homage to iconic 70s horror like The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby, and The Omen, the film fully immerses itself into the decade both aesthetically and culturally. A expressly cut, documentary-like intro begins the film by capturing the status quo; Vietnam, the Manson Family, and a generation raised by television. It also weaves in the film's world building behind talk show host Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) and a cult which is a clear reference to the Waco Siege.

Religious iconography often played as a motif in 70s horror, and Late Night with the Devil explores the decade's fascination with the occult and satanic imagery. The conservative wardrobe design behind the demonically tortured Lilly evokes the image of the rigid Catholic uniform. And like The Exorcist or The Omen, the innocence of a child is used to play upon the fear of the viewer.

Some could classify Late Night with the Devil as horror-satire. With the twilight of Jack Delroy's career driving him more desperate for ratings, he turns to increasingly morbid measures for America's attention. The special Halloween edition of his show Night Owls falls on the beginning of "Sweeps Week", a period within the Nielsen Television ratings where viewing data is collected to calculate advertising rates. Channels tend to pull out all the stops to generate ratings in order to set a high bar for ad revenue, usually devolving into sensationalist stunts. What drives home the exploitative nature of Jack Delroy's broadcast is the tender moments of Lilly's interview being sharply cut with "But first, a word from our sponsors."

The major theme of the movie lies in the moral sacrifice for success, as seen through the arc of Delroy's career aligning with his secret society background; which itself is another real world allusion to orders like the Skull and Bones and the Freemasons. But what also underlines the film by brothers Cameron and Colin Cairnes is a reflection on our consumption of media and our lust for the world's violence. Although not every American may endorse the daily horrors seen in the news, we sure can't take our eyes off the screen. We are a nation hypnotized by a flood of content, which Late Night with the Devil articulates literally in use of the classic hypnotic spiral throughout the film.

"Turn it off," Delroy pleads to the stage camera.

The film features some slick editing by the Aussie brothers who both wrote and directed the film. With the events being framed in the reality of a single master tape of a late night broadcast, they employ three distinct lenses to intercut between the fuzzy TV taping, the greyscale "behind the scenes" moments in between commercial breaks, and the letterboxed hypnotic sequence in the third act.

A true love for John Carpenter and David Cronenberg shows in the movie's robust practical visual effects that call back to The Thing and The Fly. However; whether it be the black bile projecting comically at the screen or the all-too HD ghostly image of Delroy's past wife that haunts a still frame, a few moments hurt the immersion and cohesion with the aesthetic of the decade.

Despite the efforts of a three man visual effects team that shows in the period piece's distinct, retro tone, the Cairnes brothers took flack for their use of AI art. Speaking to Variety, they acknowledged "experimenting" with three AI generated images that were used as interstitials in the Late Night broadcast, such as "We'll be Right Back" or the example below.

Although review bombing an otherwise creative and faithfully practical work on Letterboxd may not be the most effective route, it is a discussion needing to be brought to the fire. The use of AI art is a slippery slope, and its especially unfortunate that an indie film, as opposed to some impersonal major studio, employed its use rather than a willing artist.

AI criticism aside, Late Night with the Devil is a film authentic to its vision. It functions as both a genuine love letter to satanic 70s horror and satirizes the moral pitfalls of the entertainment industry. And to that screen we are glued, a nation possessed.


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