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Late Night With the Devil (2023)
Late Night With the Devil (2023)Via IMDb

Late Night With The Devil takes $666,666 at box office, despite boycotts

The indie horror took the satanic amount on Sunday in the US, despite boycotts, review bombing and harsh criticism from artists over its use of AI-generated artwork

Contentious new indie horror Late Night With The Devil has taken a satanic $666,666 at the US box office this weekend. The film – which has been facing review bombing and calls for a boycott – took the exact amount on Sunday (March 24), with its overall takings since its opening last week hitting $2.8m.

In case you’re unfamiliar, Late Night With the Devil was billed as an outstanding new entry into the possession horror genre. Presented in a found-footage style, the film by sibling directors Colin and Cameron Cairnes revolves around a late-night talk show broadcast in 1977, featuring an interview between host Jack Delroy (David Dastmalchian) and a parapsychologist, who appears alongside a teenage survivor of a Satanic church’s mass suicide, who is the subject of her new book. Predictably, the live broadcast goes horribly wrong, and unleashes an evil force into the nation’s living rooms.

So, who’s calling for the boycott? Conservative church groups? The Satanic Temple? Not quite. The controversy actually stems from the use of AI in the film, to generate artwork used in cutaways that link segments of the live ‘show’. These include an illustration of a skeleton dancing in a pumpkin patch that, on closer inspection, does bear the trademarks of AI art, including incomplete faces and mangled hands.

Criticism quickly flooded in after a Letterboxd review was shared by a user named based gizmo earlier this week. “There’s AI all over this in the cutaways and ‘we’ll be right back’ network messages. For this reason I can’t enjoy the amazing performances and clever ending,” they write. “It actually feels insulting when that skeleton message shows up repeatedly, like the filmmakers don’t give a shit and want to let you know that you’ll accept blatant AI in your 70s period piece.”

In response, many have supported a “full boycott” of the film if the AI images aren’t removed, characterising the creative decision as a slippery slope toward a heavier presence of AI content – and, therefore, less work for human artists – in the future. Others have suggested buying tickets for a different film that doesn’t use AI and “deserves” viewers’ support, and sneaking into Late Night With the Devil as a way to watch it without paying.

Several creatives with large online followings have also spoken out against the use of AI in the film, including Karla Ortiz, a leading figure in a class action lawsuit against image generators such as Midjourney and Stability AI, who encouraged the filmmakers to replace the pictures with “art made by real actual artists” before release. Comic artist Adam Ellis has also shared a screenshot that shows him claiming a refund for tickets to see the film.

On review sites, meanwhile, the film’s ratings have dipped, which can likely be attributed to bad reviews from those opposing the brief appearance of AI artworks. “I would normally never, ever even think of review bombing like this, but I'm heartbroken and furious,” reads one review on Letterboxd, from a self-proclaimed “stereotypical starving artist”. “I took art commission work specifically for the purpose of funding my travel to watch this absolute insult. I scraped coins together to be slapped in the face and shown just how little my craft is valued anymore.”

On the other side of the debate, commenters have suggested that the backlash is overblown or misdirected. Focusing on the minimal amount of AI-generated art, they suggest, takes away from the writing, directing, design, and performances of an otherwise celebrated indie movie. “[The AI art] seems highly unnecessary and I don’t like AI, especially when artists are looking for work,” says writer Richard Newby, in one widely-shared post on X, which itself has provoked significant backlash. “But also, I’m not going to boycott an indie movie and the work of everyone else for what amounts to 20 seconds of AI title cards, because that doesn’t help artists either. Sorry.”

In fact, some think that the AI art debate could help improve Late Night With the Devil’s audience figures due to placing it firmly in the public eye – not everyone cares as much about AI art’s looming dominance as starving artists, after all. Issuing a statement on the controversy via Variety, the Cairnes’ don’t seem too worried, either.

“In conjunction with our amazing graphics and production design team, all of whom worked tirelessly to give this film the 70s aesthetic we had always imagined, we experimented with AI for three still images which we edited further and ultimately appear as very brief interstitials in the film,” the writer/directors say. “We feel incredibly fortunate to have had such a talented and passionate cast, crew and producing team go above and beyond to help bring this film to life. We can’t wait for everyone to see it for themselves this weekend.”

This article was updated on March 25 to include box office takings

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