“Late Night with the Devil” Contends with Controversy Over AI Imagery

Film Still from Late Night with the Devil

“Late Night with the Devil” Contends with Controversy Over AI Imagery

New horror film Late Night with the Devil, which premiered last month at South by Southwest, had a hell of an opening week. The film hit theaters on March 22 and broke records for distributor IFC Films with a 2.8 million dollar opening weekend, according to Variety, allegedly making $666,666 on its third day in theaters. In addition to box office success, the film has scored well with critics and audiences with a whopping 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s a coup for the independent, low budget horror flick. But the film is not without controversy.

Despite overwhelmingly positive reviews, many have criticized the filmmakers for utilizing AI imagery. The growing use of artificial intelligence has been a key issue for entertainment industry workers. The overlapping SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes which stalled the film industry in the summer and fall of 2023 both cited artificial intelligence as a major sticking point. Concerns have emerged over AI replacing human artists and over the ways in which AI utilizes existing works without the permission of creators. “Human creators are the foundation of the creative industries and we must ensure that they are respected and paid for their work.” SAG-AFTRA wrote in a statement in March 2023, “Trustworthiness and transparency are essential to the success of AI.” Similar concerns have been voiced by IATSE members, who threatened to strike last month if a new contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is not in place by July 31.

Movie lovers and filmmakers alike have responded with disappointment over the decision to use AI in Late Night with the Devil. Many took to X and Letterboxd to express their dissatisfaction with the film. “Listen. There’s AI all over this in the cutaways and “we’ll be right back” network messages.” wrote Letterboxd user based gizmo, “For this reason I can’t enjoy the amazing performances and clever ending.” Joe Aragon, host of the House of Cinema podcast, added in his review ” I can already see the response, “it’s not that big of a deal” or “it doesn’t affect the movie”, which the latter may be true, but it’s a slippery slope. If this gets a pass, where do we draw the line? Complacency in accepting AI now is complacency for AI in the future— a very bleak future.” Many reviewers gave the film a mere half-star rating on principle, stating that the rating reflected their objection to AI more than the movie’s quality.

Independent filmmaker and IndieWire columnist Christian Zilko has taken a more positive approach to the film. “I personally feel like small doses of AI are much more acceptable when it’s being used to help small filmmakers who don’t have access to studio resources.” Zilko told the Garnette Report, “Late Night with the Devil is an indie production that, in my opinion, just used AI to fill in the gaps between what it’s budget was capable of and what the vision was.” Zilko went on to criticize those who have both denounced AI and claim to be against the mainstream studios dominating production, pointing out that AI is an option for low budget films to achieve effects they might not otherwise be able to afford. “There’s a massive difference between using massive amounts of AI to replace artists and small amounts to allow artists to do something they otherwise couldn’t.”

Cameron and Colin Cairnes, who wrote and directed the feature, and star David Dastmalchian have responded to criticism by clarifying that while the film’s graphic design team did experiment with AI, they also made further edits to the images before using them. “”We had such an awesome graphics design team, and all these artists who were working on making this film so perfect,” Dastmalchian said in an interview with Kevin McCarthy, “so it makes me sad that this is a story that’s getting attention, but I get it.”

Late Night with the Devil is in US theaters now and will be available for streaming on Shudder April 19th.

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