Directed by Adrián García Bogliano
Late Phases is a curious little film. Directed by Adrian Garcia Bogliano, who recently brought us the wonderfully weird Here Comes the Devil, and written by Under the Bed scribe Eric Stolze, it favors the dramatic over action, putting emphasis on the film’s ornery lead, played by Nick Damici, and his obsession with preparing for an impending full moon. It is, in a way, a werewolf movie without werewolves, at least for a good chunk of it.
And for the most part, Bogliano gets it right. The film kicks off with an introduction to Ambrose McKinley (Damici), a blind Vietnam vet being moved into a quaint retirement community by his son, Will (Embry), following the death of his wife. His first night in his new abode is met with loneliness and a brief encounter with a werewolf that kills not only his guide dog but also Gloria (Rutanya Alda), the one and only resident of the community he has taken a liking to. Dismissed by the local police as dog attacks, a few clues hint at the culprit being far more sinister in nature.
Here is where Bogliano strays from the sort of convention we’ve come to expect from the sub-genre. The initial meet-and-greet with the werewolf is used as a launching point for what amounts to a slow burn sort of thriller that follows Ambrose spending the next month preparing for the next attack while drawing the ire of the fellow residents. It mostly works, if only for Damici’s committed performance, making the drawn out “mystery” of it all feel slightly more palatable than it would otherwise. He’s funny and cantankerous, the sort of older fellow whose life has reached the ultimate “I Don’t Give a Fuck” attitude. He doesn’t care whom he offends with his dismissive insults said in his thick New York accent.
Along the way we’re introduced to a number of characters, many of whom draw the suspicion – and ire – of Ambrose. The film is elevated into a sort of “whodunit” as Ambrose, aided by his keen sense of smell and hearing, seeks to uncover the mystery behind the attacks. Is it the trio of women who landed on the receiving end of Ambrose’s curt dismissal early on in the film? Or is it Father Roger, played by the soft-spoken Tom Noonan? Bogliano makes every attempt to keep the mystery at bay for as long as possible and effectively promising a stunning showdown between man and beast at the end. Ambrose booby-traps his house, buys silver bullets, and digs a massive grave in the back yard, replete with a massive stone cross. This causes his already strained relationship with Will to weaken further, which in turn helps to drive home the film’s overarching themes.
Ultimately, the film’s climax leaves a lot to be desired, starting with the utterly unfulfilling reveal and subsequent explanation. We’re never offered anything satisfactory to make the preceding hour worth it, and had it not been for Damici overshadowing everyone else, the film would be easily dismissed. Furthermore, Greg Nicotero’s creature design provokes more laughs than it does thrills. Werewolf movies are always a crapshoot. While the obvious issues of story and acting tend to pop up, one of the more common complaints lies in the creature design. The blend of animal and human tends to prefer one or the other, resulting in a creature that is either too human or too wolf with no acceptable middle ground. In the case of Late Phases, the werewolves resemble small walking dogs with faces that resembles a cross between a pug and a wrinkle-faced bat.
While there are moments in the film that make it a genuinely interesting and oftentimes humorous watch, the film’s third act leaves a lot to be desired. Damici’s commanding performance notwithstanding, Late Phases winds up doing the werewolf film a disservice. The direction is admirable and the approach deserves a modicum of praise, but the positives can’t overcome the negatives that beleaguer the film throughout.
2 out of 5