Written by: Eric Stolze
Directed by: AdriŠn GarcŪa Bogliano
Starring: Nick Damici, Ethan Embry, Lance Guest
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
When the moon is full, the hunt is on.
For years, Adrian Garcia Bogliano has done few favors for the tourism industry of Argentina with a string of horror films exploring the darker corners of his native country. Itís only fair that he would eventually turn his eye towards America in Late Phases, his English-language debut that peers into an odd setting for a werewolf movie. Set in a retirement community, it also aims to be unusually poignant when itís not preoccupied with gross transformations and monsters ripping people apart. It has a heart when it isnít tearing out hearts.
When we meet Ambrose McKinley (Nick Damici), he might as well have one foot in the grave as he shops for headstones from a roadside vendor (Larry Fessenden, ever delightful) on his way his new home in Crescent Bay, a local retirement destination. (You have to admit thatís smart business.) A Vietnam vet who has gone blind, Ambrose is estranged from his son (Ethan Embry) and has become a toxic personality late in life. Upon arrival, he alienates everyone around him, especially when he claims an animal attack that claims a neighbor and his dog was actually the handiwork of a werewolf.
Heís correct, of course, as Late Phases dispatches with ambiguity from the get-go by revealing its monster up front. Granted, itís shrouded in shadows, but thereís little doubt thereís a lycanthrope on the loose. What follows is an amusing little detective story that follows Ambroseís attempt to ferret out the identity of the beast. The setting obviously evokes Bubba Ho-Tep, only itís not quite that odd or tongue-in-cheek. Instead, it plays out like a tribute to Silver Bullet, right down to Ambrose associating with a couple members of the local church (Lance Guest and Tom Noonan). Itís sort of a Hardy Boys mystery with a particularly cranky septuagenarian who is more than willing to wait until the next full moon to exterminate the wolf.
Never content to come at anything in a straight line, however, Bogliano (working from Eric Stolzeís twisty script) pulls the rug from under viewers about halfway through when he unveils the wolfís identity. Between this and the viscera-soaked werewolf rampages that bookend the movie, Late Phases has a jagged rhythm: it initially looks the part of a full-throttle creature feature, then settles into low-key, quirky detective mode before circling back to the carnage. While the structure keeps the audience on its toes, it also divides the film against itself since it shifts between both modes without completely nailing down either one.
Damici is a fine anchor for the domestic drama, at least. With his lips constantly pursed, he glowers through the proceedings like a man with a death wish. An early exchange with his son reveals his fatalist mantra: Crescent Bay isnít a place anyone goes to live, he says. Rather, itís a place where you go to die, and heíll be goddamned if he doesnít take down a werewolf before heís ripped from this world. Even though the script hits all the familiar ďtortured old cussĒ beats (a traumatic war memory, discussions about faith, a final phone confessional with his son), Damici sells them with aplomb. Before he embarks on his fateful encounter with the beast, he suits up one last time, and it has the air of a gunslinger trudging back to the frontier for a final showdown. Itís like fucking Rolling Thunder with werewolves.
Which sounds pretty awesome, right? It is, mostly. Boglianoís approach is appreciably gory and practical, which leads to one of the most staggering werewolf transformations in recent memory. If thereís any digital work involved, itís subtle; otherwise, itís a long, painstaking take that captures an agonizing metamorphosis that leaves a manís skin dropping to the floor like a husk. The bloodletting doesnít stop there, as the entire climax is a gore-soaked romp that leaves most of the cast (which also boasts the likes of Tina Louise, Rutanya Alda, and Karen Lynn Gorney) expendable. The only reservation I have about it is that it almost feels too fun considering how serious Late Phases is up until this point. Watching Ambrose embrace his own oblivion should somehow feel more disturbing than it does; instead, I spent most of the climax in awe of the incredible effects work.
To his credit, Bogliano does remain committed to the familial drama. He returns to it during the filmís resolution in rather obvious, maudlin fashion, but Damici and Embry are solid enough performers to make it resonate a bit. Surprisingly, Late Phases works a little bit better as a drama than it does a werewolf or a detective movie, if only because the father-son angle is developed, sustained, and executed well enough to form a solid backbone for the story's various modes. At its core, Late Phases is a sad tale about a broken, bitter, lonely man, so maybe it follows that it isnít disturbing so much as itís simply melancholy with an occasional touch of gory thrills. They donít call it ďgoing down in a blaze of gloryĒ for nothing.
Itís definitely one of those movies with a lot of functional working parts that never quite mesh together as well as youíd like. Frankly, itís the latest Bogliano film that can be described like that. He keeps banging doubles off the wall, but heís yet to knock one completely out of the park just yet. I hope he gets there. In the meantime, Late Phasesis a testament to his potential and is now available on DVD courtesy of Dark Sky. The discís transfer accurately reflects a somewhat ugly looking film: like some of Boglianoís previous efforts, this is a film with a harsh, almost sickly aesthetic, and itís flat and muted throughout. Both 5.1 and 2.0 tracks are available as audio options in addition to a commentary with the director. A trailer and two featurettes serve as the supplements: one is a 15-minute glimpse at the filmís production, and the other is a 30-minute look that focuses on the filmís effects.
One doesnít even have to watch these features to see that Late Phases has a lot of thought put into it: far from a conventional werewolf movie, it mixes blood, guts, and soul in a way few films even dare. Iím still hoping Boglianoís ambition and cleverness results in excellence, but, for now, Iíll enjoy that heís provided a film that feels like a lost Howling sequel. Take that how you will. Rent it!
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