There’s a lot of talent that worked on Late Phases. Adrian Garcia Bogliano, director of tight little Argentinian genre exercises like Cold Sweat, Penumbra and Here Comes the Devil, directs Nick Damici, a filmmaker in his own right and the capable leading man of indie horror darlings Mulberry Street and Stake Land. Damici is supported by immediately recognizable character actors like Lance Guest, Tom Noonan, Ethan Embry, Caitlin O'Heaney and Tina Louise. It’s produced by Larry Fessenden, one of the hardest working producers in B horror, who brought us The Innkeepers and The House of the Devil. Makeup legend Robert Kurtzman (Oz the Great and Powerful, Hostel, Hulk) did the creature effects. The names may not be household, but for horror fanatics, Late Phases comes with a real pedigree.
But movies are magic and magic is imperfect, and all of the right ingredients in the world don’t necessarily mean the magic will happen. Even the screenplay by Eric Stolze seems to provide a strong enough blueprint for something a little special. Damici plays blind Vietnam veteran Ambrose, shuttled off to a retirement community by his son (Embry), and on his first night is present for a werewolf attack in which his neighbor and guide dog are killed. The trick is, Ambrose didn’t actually witness anything, so with an educated guess, he starts planning for retaliation during the next full moon. In the meantime, the abrasively curt vet pokes and prods the community’s residents, hoping to provoke someone into revealing clues about their lupine secret identity. It’s an efficient plot that borrows pieces of what works from Rear Window and Silver Bullet, and Stolze has strong ear for dialogue (that’s a godsend for monster-movie fans conditioned on tin-eared droning meant to fill the gaps between gory kills).
Budget is the biggest noticeable limitation fighting against Late Phases. This means that a certain amount of forgiveness is required to allow Late Phases to tell its story effectively. Damici is so good as Ambrose, but he’s not old enough for the part and his stagy old age makeup just highlights how young he really is. Too many props bear what appears to be glued-on paper labels, including a coroner van, a moving truck, and a bag of ammunition from a local dealer. If these are the corners that were cut to get a decent werewolf transformation scene, then we’ll allow it. But should we have to?
To paraphrase Mark Borchardt, movies shouldn’t come with an apology. The budgetary constraints add to a final product that seems to battle with authenticity. Ambrose and Embry, as well as Tom Noonan as a priest with a spotty past, play real, lived-in characters, but most of the community residents are one-note cartoons of “old people” (with only Tina Louise coming across as age appropriate). Inconsistency across the board damages whatever tone Bogliano is working for in Late Phases.
Forgiving all of that if you can, Late Phases stays interesting at the very least. We don’t get as many werewolf films as we do zombies and vampires, so we’re always left hungry for more. There’s always junk-food pleasure in seeing a questionably funky-looking werewolf take the business end of a silver-loaded shotgun to the face. Everyone involved with Late Phases has done better work before this and will do better work in the future, which cements Late Phases as one of those movies that’ll end up on some “Werewolf Movies You’ve Never Heard Of” list 10 years down the line. Years from now, some friend will ask, “Did you ever see the one with the old blind guy in the retirement community?” And you’ll probably remember it as being mostly okay.
Following its premiere at the 2014 SXSW Film Festival, Late Phases has not announced an official release date yet. Check out more of our coverage of this year's SXSW Film Festival here.
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