Late Phases (2014)
Dir: Adrián García Bogliano
Written By: Eric Stolze
Starring: Nick Damici, Ethan Embry, Lance Guest, Tina Louise
UK release: Frightfest 2014
Grumpy war vet Ambrose (Damici) moves into a sleepy retirement community, only to discover the place is besieged by werewolves.
It’s sadly rare that a blind person takes centre-stage in any film, let alone in horror, which requires so much to be glimpsed around dark corners. But such is the case with Late Phases, a blackly comic, heart wrenching, incredibly poignant portrayal of a stubborn man, his fractured relationship with his son, and a pack of werewolves who are running riot in the retirement village in which he’s just reluctantly taken up a spot.
In less capable hands, protagonist Ambrose could’ve been a horrible, bitter asshole but the talented Nick Damici (who’s becoming something of a genre staple, following scene-stealing turns in We Are What We Are and Cold In July) makes him an incredibly nuanced, likeable character in spite of his obvious stubbornness. A man who is all-too-aware of his own mortality, Ambrose flatly tells nosy neighbours “I’d see you out, but I’m blind” and has impassioned discussions with a local priest (played by the wonderful Tom Noonan) about the meaning of life and the supposed existence of God.
It’s a difficult role – not least because Damici has to remain bug-eyed for the entirety of the flick – made near impossible by the looming presence of bloodthirsty lycans. Played straight, as a simple father-son conflict drama, Late Phases could’ve been great, but with the inclusion of the mythical creatures, and the scare factor that comes with them, it’s outstanding. Where similarly-themed genre offerings might shy away from showing everything, utilising clever cuts to make the transformation sequences seem more viable, here director Bogliano gives us the money shot in a gloriously extended sequence that shows every contortion, every hair, every split piece of skin.
Late Phases actually boasts some of the most effective werewolf transformation sequences in horror, even if technically its protagonist doesn’t get to see them. And it’s scary as hell, too, with the first, particularly brutal, kill dropped on Ambrose’s very first night in the village. Stuck having to listen through the walls, his neighbour’s blood-curdling screams are terrifying, and when his beloved guide dog – his only real friend – falls victim, too, the threat becomes horribly real. There’s an element of sameness to werewolf movies and, particularly in recent years with the rubbishy CGI creations of the Twilight franchise, they seem to have lost their bite. Late Phases is inventive with the subgenre, even with something as simple as one of the beasts darting past a window or when a group of them crowd around a body.
Director Bogliano, who has several no-budget genre credits to his name including the B short in ABCs Of Death, has truly created something wonderful here. The script, by Eric Stolze, who penned Under The Bed, straddles a careful line between melodrama and genuine pathos, with a streak of perfectly-judged, pitch-black humour running underneath. However, major kudos must go to Wojciech Golczewski, for a superb score that is omnipresent, yet not invasive.
From the opening moments to the final, bloody, brutal battle, it trundles along, championing Ambrose and signalling something sinister is afoot but never overstaying its welcome. Much of mainstream, modern horror relies on signalling a scare is coming with a shriek of violin or a shock of piano keys, but Golczewski is cleverer than that. He weaves his notes in until they become one with the film, until they are part of Ambrose’s journey.
Speaking of whom, Damici gives a revelatory performance as Ambrose. Empathetic, resourceful and relentlessly cranky, his deadpan delivery is a joy to behold and a voicemail he leaves his son is disarmingly poignant. When he explains that, by the time he went blind, he “couldn’t stand to look at the world anyway” it’s difficult not to agree with him, and the amount of fight he puts up in the final act is truly remarkable, not just in spite of his disability.
Late Phases is that rare surprise in horror – smart, poetic, funny and very scary, it serves as a much-needed reminder that sticking to a formula isn’t always the best idea, and that sometimes, even the most seemingly overdone creatures can be given life to feature again.
Gorgeously shot, beautifully scored, with a pitch perfect lead performance from Damici and arguably the best werewolf transformation sequence since John Landis’ seminal creature feature, Late Phases is a genre masterpiece with more depth, more scope and more vision than much of the current landscape combined.