'Late Phases': Fantasia Review
Spanish genre specialist Adrian Garcia Bogliano makes his English-language debut.
Nick Damici is the Charles Bronson of blind, senior-citizen werewolf hunters. In Late Phases, he brusquely carries the day as a Vietnam Vet whose people skills don't quite match his ability to intuit the supernatural cause of violent attacks in a New York state retirement community. Horror buffs will be divided on the film's stylized (but likably old-school) creature design, but most will appreciate the picture's slow-build treatment of its hero's quest to prepare for the beast's next full-moon attack. Though not sufficiently jolt-packed to have broad theatrical appeal, it should fare better on video.
Damici plays Ambrose, a widower being moved into this forlorn old-folks subdivision by son Will (Ethan Embry). (Though only in his mid-fifties, some subtle makeup helps Damici fit the role — at least until a shirtless shot late in the film reveals the torso of a younger man.) Independent but very attached to his seeing-eye dog Shadow, he begins to settle in after Will leaves. But on his first night, Shadow and the woman next door are both slain by a man-sized beast that tears through walls and flesh with equal ease.
Bogliano shows us the creature from the start, a rejection of monster movie convention that makes sense once we understand that almost the whole film will take place in the month-long wait before it appears again. After hearing someone say that the attack coincided with a full moon, Ambrose is surprisingly confident he's dealing with a werewolf. Having gotten a good whiff of the beast and heard its tortured breathing, he sets out to see which of his neighbors bears a resemblance. Meanwhile, he commits the layout of his home to memory, practices some old combat moves, and invests in silver bullets for guns his neighbors think a blind man shouldn't own.
In his first English-language outing, Spaniard Adrian Garcia Bogliano has some trouble developing a sense of this little community as a real place. The trio of old biddies who gossip about Ambrose aren't subtle enough to be credible; the same goes for cops who shrug at the epidemic of violence on their beat. But casting Tom Noonan as the local priest was smart: As Ambrose's prime suspect, he both gives the air of a man with creepy secrets and projects real interest in his new parishioner's loneliness. Interactions between the two give just a bit of depth to the film's theme of a society that has little time to care for its elders.
But back to werewolves. After a genuinely startling bit of human violence, the lycanthrope reappears in a transformation sequence that is considerably cheesier than many cinematic man-to-beast scenes. The end product looks a bit like a Gremlin crossed with the Donnie Darko rabbit, and its battle with our well-prepared hero isn't as thrilling as it might have been. Damici more than holds the screen, too gruffly determined to be upstaged by a monster, and the script slips a clever trick or two up his sleeve. Less ambitious but more satisfyingly resolved than Bogliano's last effort, Here Comes the Devil, Late Phases is a reminder of how much monster movies rely on what happens when the monster's not on screen.
Production companies: Glass Eye Pix, Dark Sky Films
Cast: Nick Damici, Ethan Embry, Lance Guest, Tom Noonan, Rutanya Alda, Tina Louise, Erin Cummings, Larry Fessenden, Dana Ashbrook
Director: Adrian Garcia Bogliano
Screenwriter: Eric Stolze
Producers: Larry Fessenden, Brent Kunkle, Greg Newman, Zak Zeman
Executive producer: Hamza Ali
Director of photography: Ernesto Herrera
Production designer: Lisa Myers
Costume designer: Megan Stark Evans
Editor: Aaron Crozier
Music: Wojciech Golczewski
No rating, 95 minutes