NOVEMBER 21, 2014
It's a good thing I waited until today to watch Late Phases, instead of on Tuesday when I originally planned to, because I probably would have been a damn blubbering wreck then. You see, Tuesday would have been my dad's 69th birthday, and since I'm now a dad myself (my baby is 6 months old tomorrow!) this one hit me pretty hard as is, because I hate that he's not here to see his grandson and theoretically tell me I'm doing a good job. And thus, the last thing I'd expect to make it worse would be a werewolf movie, but damned if the thing isn't half Lycan entry, half father-son drama. So thanks for the busy week that delayed my plans, universe - watching 3 days later, I was pretty much OK.
Also, thanks for making a good werewolf movie! Longtime readers of this site know I'm not always enamored by such films; the only ones I like are the ones EVERYONE likes: American Werewolf in London, Ginger Snaps (though I prefer the first sequel), The Howling - which took me a couple viewings, etc. The only one that might raise an eyebrow is Silver Bullet, and I'd be lying if I said that part of why I enjoyed Late Phases is that it seemed either writer Eric Stolze or director Adrián García Bogliano was also a fan of this not-exactly-beloved 1985 flick (or the story it was based on), as it not only had a disabled character at its center (the crippled Corey Haim character there; here it's the blind veteran played by Nick Damici) but also a mystery about who the wolf was that ended up having a connection to the local church.
Now, I don't think that's really a spoiler - unless they opted for a Ginger Snaps route of not explaining who the human behind the wolf was, the movie only offers a couple of potential suspects and they're all involved with the church. But really, it doesn't seem like the mystery is as compelling to anyone as the human drama at the movie's core, in which the rather dickish Ambrose (Damici) learns to be at peace with himself. As a proud soldier, the illness that took his sight obviously had a major effect on him (though he proves to be a pretty good shot anyway when the time comes), and as a result he's become borderline insufferable, and even worse now that he's been placed in a retirement community populated by overly pleasant people that annoy him. The only one that (kind of) tolerates him is his son, played by Ethan Embry, and eventually he tires of his attitude as well.
As this is a Bogliano film as well as a Glass Eye Pix production, I wasn't expecting much werewolf action to occur until the final few minutes, as both director and company specialize in "slow burn" type horror, letting the mood and atmosphere suffice to provide the horror for the first hour or so, and then unleashing hell. But surprisingly, we get some almost as soon as Ambrose arrives at the community - a neighbor's dog is attacked, he is spooked, and a bit later his own dog is killed by "something". It's chalked up to a "bear or large dog", but we know what it is, and so does Ambrose after a while, demanding someone make him a silver bullet (natch) so he can exact revenge for his dog. Basically, it hits all the beats of a traditional werewolf movie, but in a very casual way that allows the filmmakers to spend more time on the characters. There's a sweet little friendship between Ambrose and a priest played by Tom Noonan, and I'm pretty sure their final scene together is the only time Damici smiles throughout the movie - Noonan was able to crack the gruff exterior, mostly by being as stubborn as he is. It's a shame they only have I think three scenes together; I could have watched a whole movie of them trading barbs while becoming pals.
Noonan is just one of many genre vets that appear in the film, making this resemble a rather peculiar (but admirable) lineup for a horror con at times. You get Lance Guest (Halloween II), Rutanya Alda (Amityville II), and Caitlin O'Heaney (probably hired for Wolfen, but I'll remember her from He Knows You're Alone), plus Larry Fessenden in his usual bit role, and Twin Peaks' Dana Ashbrook for good measure. And outside of horror you can appreciate the first acting gig in a decade from Tina Louise, best known as Ginger from Gilligan's Island (much to her chagrin, from what I understand), and the lovely Erin Cummings from Spartacus and the unfairly dumped Made In Jersey. Maybe it's just my poor choices, but I can't recall the last time I watched a genre flick where nearly the entire cast was not only someone I recognized but someone who I enjoy seeing on my screen, so that was a highlight for sure.
I do wish the film was tighter, however. There are a pair of cops who appear too often for my tastes (since they can't seem to see what (literally) a blind man could), and an odd running gag concerning the bored security guard at the community's front gate (the payoff seems to be that the gate is locked for once when Embry's character needs to get inside - any random excuse could have impeded his arrival). And for some reason there are back to back scenes that seem to exist to reveal who the werewolf is? Like he does the same thing (biting a random person while in human form) and both times are played as surprise/shock moments? It's like they wanted to make sure you didn't miss it the first time or something. That said, now that he's been revealed and we can get to a full transformation, it's a pretty fantastic one - practically designed and delivered in one shot, where they pan to another character's horrified expression before panning back to the guy transforming. Love the shot of all the human teeth bursting out onto the floor! My screener wasn't the best quality (and watermarked to boot) so don't quote me on it, but I'm pretty sure it was all done without CGI (at least, on the wolf - I'm sure it wasn't REALLY an unbroken shot but made to look seamless with some digital fudging), and the wolf itself is definitely a guy in a suit. Maybe it's not the best looking one in history, but I don't even care - in this day and age, just the fact that ANY production is going about it the right way is enough to satisfy me. That it's a low budget indie makes it nothing short of miraculous.
The movie is the latest one to have a miniscule theatrical release on the same day it hits VOD. I'll never understand this model, but I guess it's OK you have choices? I hope there are enough people like me who value the theatrical experience enough to go that route instead of watching it on their cable box (or worse, computer), and believe me I would have went that route if it was playing near me (apparently Los Angeles isn't "select" enough anymore). It's not exactly Interstellar levels of "You must see it on the big screen!", but it's been a damn long time since a quality "solo" werewolf movie was playing (don't give me the Wolfman remake, that thing was a mess). For the past 10 years they've been the opponents of vampires (Twilight and Underworld series) or in crap like Red Riding Hood - it's about time they get the spotlight to themselves again, and in a worthy movie to boot.
What say you?