The term ‘style over substance’ has been used as an insult for a long time, but why? Especially in a medium such as film, why would style be so wryly dismissed and derided? What if a film dares to be stylish and has plenty of substance, how does the above equation work then?
Luckily, the new film ‘Late Night With the Devil’, the latest from Cameron and Colin Cairnes, answers that question for us.
The answer is, “both, both is good.”
One of the more stylistic horror films in recent history, the substance of the film manages to run parallel, step for step, with that exceptional visual style.
The film is equally presented as a documentary, found television footage, and a bit of traditional filmmaking. This cocktail of presentation not only keeps the audience off-balance it presents a whirring, and yes stylistic, narrative.
Starring David Dastmalchian as Jack Delroy, a late-night talk show during the 70’s host forgotten in the wake of Johnny Carson. Sensing this eventual obsolescence Delroy desperately grasps at ratings during sweeps week. This results with a live Halloween show that features some very special guests, some invited, some not.
The magic of the film is the filmmakers ability to shift styles, and the resulting pacing, so seamlessly. Aspect ratios change, colors change, narrative voices change. It’s a hodgepodge of film, and it works so well.
As the film begins, it starts as a documentary on the life of Jack Delroy, important pieces of exposition sprinkled along the way in a voice that makes sense, never forced.
Then you have lost footage of the live show in question. This is when the stylistic mastery of the filmmakers really shines through. The camera quality, the frame rates, the colors, all seem shockingly authentic. Given the right circumstances, one could forget they are watching a fictional representation and assume they are actually watching archival footage.
Thirdly, you have the more omnipotent observer footage that is more traditional to film. The supposed behind the scenes footage in a way that if the camera was actually there, the characters would notice and not be so free with their illuminating conversations. Motives are revealed and characters are developed, all as this invisible observer stands in closely to listen.
Finally, and perhaps most stylistically, you have the final sequence. For the purposes of the review, it will be left at that. But the final moments of the film jut so drastically from what came before, perhaps even into the subconscious of a character that everything changes. The aspect ratio, the color design, the movement of the camera. It is frenetic, bordering on overwhelming.
When you combine the narrative/substance of the film with the style/visuals of the film you can’t help but realize that classic, snarky ‘style over substance’ criticism is mostly nonsense.
Well at least when you have filmmakers that can combine them into a cocktail of swirling, frenzied horror like this.
SXSW 2023: ‘Late Night With the Devil’ Features an Extra Special Guest