D: Adrián García Bogliano / 96m
Cast: Nick Damici, Ethan Embry, Lance Guest, Erin Cummings, Tom Noonan, Tina Louise, Rutanya Alda, Caitlin O’Heaney, Karen Lynn Gorney, Larry Fessenden, Dana Ashbrook
Blind Vietnam war veteran Ambrose McKinley (Damici) moves into a gated community called Crescent Bay with his dog Shadow. He has an antagonistic nature, and a poor relationship with his son, Will (Embry). He meets his neighbour, Delores (Gorney), but aims to pretty much keep himself to himself. That first night, Delores is attacked by someone or something; Ambrose hears the commotion and tries to work out what’s happening. Delores’s attacker then turns their attention to Ambrose. Shadow defends Ambrose and the attacker flees, leaving Shadow fatally wounded.
Ambrose is found the next day and the police arrive to investigate. He learns that this isn’t the first time someone in Crescent Bay has been attacked, and that the community is always finding its dogs killed by some animal. When it’s also mentioned that the attacks happen regularly each month (and around the time of the full moon), Ambrose begins to suspect that his and Delores’ attacker is a werewolf. He keeps his suspicions to himself but begins to plan and prepare for the next month’s full moon, aiming to kill the creature and put an end to all the attacks and dog killings.
He’s persuaded to attend the local Sunday church group, where he meets Father Roger (Noonan). He suspects the priest of being the werewolf as he talks about people’s dark sides and how he keeps his own dark side under control. Ambrose also runs afoul of the other Crescent Bay residents by using a shovel as a walking cane, and by his continued aggressive attitude. He has silver bullets made, and ensures he has several guns hidden about his property. But as the next full moon approaches, the person who is the werewolf realises what Ambrose is up to, and begins making their own preparations…
With werewolf movies becoming more prevalent in recent years, Late Phases arrives with a modicum of expectation based around the involvement of Bogliano, an Argentinian director whose movies have a unique brand of intensity about them, and its fairly unusual setting, a gated retirement community. It’s a broadly entertaining movie that is confident enough to show its monster within the first fifteen minutes, but like so many other horror movies that start off promisingly, Eric Stolze’s script soon opts for implausibility instead of being more carefully thought out.
It’s a shame as the movie gets quite a few things right. The main character of Ambrose is a refreshing change from the usual screaming teen queen, his curt, uncompromising nature and abrupt manner maintained (almost) throughout. Damici proves a great choice for the role, his glowering features and sardonic scowl completely in tune with Ambrose’s determined animosity. He’s a practical man and he approaches the idea of a werewolf being on the loose in a practical manner, with no room for doubt or hesitation. He doesn’t try to convince anyone there’s a werewolf carrying out the attacks and he doesn’t try to enlist anyone’s aid on the night. He just gets on with it.
His talks with Father Roger combine musings on the duality of man with notions of honour and personal belief, and though they do include dialogue that is cliché driven, it’s good to see a horror movie take time out to examine pertinent themes, and in some depth (it’s also good to see Noonan back in a movie after several years on various TV shows and making shorts). Alas, the same can’t be said for Ambrose’s relationship with his son, which hinges on his inability to show emotion, and which has a predictable resolution. Damici and Embry manage to make these scenes more effective than as written, but they’re still pretty perfunctory.
Another plus is the decision not to use the “w” word. At one point, Ambrose asks the question “What do silver bullets make you think of?” The reply? “The Lone Ranger.” It’s a lovely moment, played completely straight, and underlines the confident nature of much of the script. However, this is a horror movie and certain illogicalities have to be adhered to (or so it seems). While pacing out steps in one of the rooms in his property, Ambrose turns on a couple of lamps – would a blind man need to do that? He finds a claw embedded in the wall of his new home (within about a minute of his going inside) – as an early warning of what’s to come it’s great, but wouldn’t a realtor (or someone) have spotted that long before he moved in? And the police are woefully inadequate in dealing with attacks that go back twenty-five years but are on the ball when some of Ambrose’s neighbours complain about his behaviour. (And let’s not mention the gate security guard who seems to work 24/7.)
The movie reveals the identity of the werewolf approximately two thirds in and while most viewers won’t be surprised by the revelation, they probably will be surprised by the fact that this werewolf can bite people and pass on the curse while in human form. This leads to a risible showdown between Ambrose and several werewolves that features possibly cinema’s first ever example of “were-fu”. It also reveals that werewolves are unable to move out of the way when a blind man points a gun at them, and have to stand in the line of fire for around twenty seconds bellowing before attacking Ambrose one at a time. And there’s a minor subplot involving a headstone that amounts to a bad joke when it’s finally brought into play.
There’s a transformation scene that’s not too bad given the budget, and a pleasing amount of gore to keep genre fans happy, and there’s an emphasis on keeping the special effects practical rather than enhanced by CGI that works in the movie’s favour, but while Bogliano adds some much needed energy to things in the two big setpieces that bookend the movie, there are still too many occasions where the viewer will be shaking their head and asking themselves, did I really just see or hear that? The rest of the cast provide adequate support, and there’s some effectively framed scenes and shots courtesy of DoP Ernesto Herrera. Wojciech Golczewski’s score can be a little intrusive at times, though it does provide some atmospheric support during the quieter scenes, and the movie thankfully avoids the temptation to set up a potential sequel.
Rating: 6/10 – with a bit more care and attention paid to the script, Bogliano’s first English language movie could have been a much more robust and compelling movie; as it is, Late Phases is worth seeking out as an attempt at doing something a little different within an already crowded genre.