Late Phases. 2014. Dir. Adrián García Bogliano. Screenplay by Eric Stolze.
Starring Nick Damici, Ethan Embry, and Lance Guest. Dark Sky Films/Glass Eye Pix.
Not Rated. 95 minutes.
Werewolf movies are a real hit or miss for me. That being said, I love a good werewolf flick. If it’s done right. The problem with creature features in general is the presentation of the monster itself. People want to say it’s shown too much, not enough, too soon, too late. So many complaints. Honestly, I could care less how long the monster is onscreen. Though I care about two things: as long as it looks decent, and as long as the rest of the film holds up its end. Late Phases is a particularly interesting character piece. Of course it all revolves around the werewolf. It’s the catalyst for the events in the film.
But the whole story really revolves around Ambrose (Damici).
Ambrose moves into a new neighbourhood, into a new home. His son (played by a favourite of mine, Ethan Embry) tries to help him settle, but his father is a bit of a surly war veteran, retired from the United States Armed Forces; he served during the Vietnam war. On the first night in his new place, Ambrose experiences some strange events. Next door is a lot of noise. Banging on the door. Followed later by screams, a loud crashing, terrible sounds. Something kills the lady next door. Then it bursts its way into his home, killing his service dog. Ambrose is left with his bloody canine friend in his arms, but alive.
Something seems to be plaguing the community. The werewolf of course could not fully be identified by Ambrose. He is blind. This is what heightens the plot of Late Phases from a simple creature feature to a werewolf horror containing a character study.
Also, while I do enjoy certain werewolf films focusing on a person becoming the monster, it’s excellent that Late Phases opts to instead take on the perspective of an outsider. It really works to have Damici’s character as a blind man. The heightened sense of smell he sorts of develops (nothing inhuman, simply an army man whose whole professional life perhaps has been spent relying on his abilities to pay attention to more detail than the average man, and now blind uses it as a means of retaining some sort of control over his life) almost puts him in the same league as the werewolf; he has an animalistic side, coupled with the war veteran in him. Damici himself does an excellent job as Ambrose. Not only does Damici nail the movements of a blind man (at least as far as I can tell), he really gets into this character. We’ve seen the ‘wounded war veteran’ a hundred times; some performances are great, others very typical or even boring. The Vietnam vet in particular has been done to death. Everything from the 1980s horror-comedy House to one of my favourite films of all-time, featuring Robert DeNiro and Christopher Walken both playing fantastic roles, The Deer Hunter. However, Damici manages to not go all the typical routes. His blindness is a part of that, but really he keeps it subdued. He isn’t the typical binge drinking or depressed type of person. Ambrose is most certainly a cynical and mostly hopeless, in terms of his outlook on life, yet he isn’t a man without purpose. And once his dog is killed by the werewolf, he knows something is not right. He can tell. This particular event gives him more purpose. Damici plays Ambrose in a subtle fashion, which really helps Late Phases elevate itself from just a creature feature to something more.
There are some other little treats as far as acting goes in this film. Ever since I first saw Manhunter I thought Tom Noonan was perfect for horror. He is fascinatingly creepy, and a wonderful actor. Here he plays a priest who gets close (or as close as anybody can get) to Ambrose. Even more, Larry Fessenden shows up, right off the bat even, in a few scenes as a man trying to sell a headstone to Ambrose. All around everyone does a great job, too. Even Fessenden in his brief part.
As I mentioned before, Ethan Embry is an actor I really enjoy. He has this sort of energy about it which really lends itself to dark roles in horror and thrillers, or even just a very black comedy like his recent film Cheap Thrills. He does a good job playing son Will to Damici’s Ambrose. They give off that troubled relationship quite easily. A great pairing here. One scene I really enjoyed comes when Ambrose nearly shoots Will after believing him to be an intruder initially. This gives way to some real serious father-son drama for a few moments. Really tense.
The cinematography is also pretty awesome. Adrián García Bogliano, who previously did the gritty rape-revenge thriller I’ll Never Die Alone, as well as Penumba, Here Comes the Devil, and the segment “B is for Bigfoot” in The ABCs of Death, really knows how to draw out creepy imagery. There are times when it’s very subtle, like the acting in Late Phases, while at others it can be very striking. The beginning of the film opens with a real bang. It isn’t long until we’re treated to a look at the monster. Leading up to this there are a couple shadowy shots, but Bogliano doesn’t pull any punches. There are some good little bloody bits. There are also a few quieter moments, such as Ambrose sitting in the dark of the shadows; he slowly pulls back into the black, disappearing. There’s enough balance between outright horror and restraint to make this a creature feature, but also put it in the category of being a slow burn. Bogliano works on the characters and then brings out shades of horror from time to time.
Then in the last 25 minutes we’re treated to a transformation. Yes, you do get to see a man become a werewolf here. Even if his perspective is not the chief point-of-view throughout the film. And this transformation scene is really awesome. The effects were pretty great, and definitely old school. It helped that the whole thing didn’t look like a CGI-fest because that’s often what takes me out of a good film. The creature doesn’t have to be perfect, but if we’re going to have a good look at it, as we do a few times throughout Late Phases and particularly during the finale, it has to look at least decent. And CGI just can’t cut it in that sense. At least for me. I like to see at least some use of practical make-up effects when it comes to werewolves. I don’t know, maybe that’s silly of me – who knows. It helps make horror specifically look better if the effects are done in practical fashion. CGI takes the life out of it. It doesn’t have to be every bit practical, but the more lifeless and computer-ish things look the more the humanity comes out of it. I know we’re talking about a movie concerning werewolves. There just still needs to be some sort of way to emotionally connect people to a horror film, if it’s going to be a great one. And once the effects, essentially the “pay offs”, become more and more fake there’s less and less connection on the part of the audience. In my opinion. Late Phases succeeds by having a pretty creepy werewolf design.
Overall I’d have to say Late Phases is a near flawless addition to the werewolf sub-genre of horror films. A great central performance by Nick Damici. The film is basically a character study dropped into the framework of a werewolf horror. It works because Damici is a talented actor. Late Phases also knocks it out of the park as a creature feature style flick. Especially in the finale. You’ll really get a kick out of Damici’s battle with the werewolf. It really pays its dues as a werewolf movie at the end when we get to see a little more of the creature (plus extra wildness I’d not anticipated & of course I will not spoil) and there are balls-out sequences to really get excited about.
This a 5 out of 5 star film for me. It completely subverted my expectations. I thought for awhile I knew where things were going, but then the movie took a different path. I can’t often say that these days about too many films.
Movies like this one, as well as the recent indie Starry Eyes, are the reason why I pay less and less attention to the ‘horror’ bullshit pulling in hundreds of millions at the box office, and keep more of an eye on independent horror, and any smaller films willing to take chances instead of sticking with a moneymaking formula or whatever is the trend of today.
See this now! It’s available on VOD. Support it. We need more horror like this in a market inundated with shit.