While werewolves aren’t exactly my favorite horror monster, I still get excited about a properly crafted werewolf flick because they’re so hard to come by. My favorite recent howler dates all the way back to Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers, a 2002 military creature feature, but Adrián García Bogliano’s Late Phases begs for similar attention, finally filling the “hot dog down a hallway” sized void that movies like The Wolfman left open.
Taking cues from geriatric zombie film Cockneys Vs. Zombies, Under The Bed scribe Eric Stolze transforms grey haired grandparents into hairy grey wolfbeasts, as a rural senior citizen complex witness a slew of unsolved animal attacks, creating openings quicker than Death himself. A fun little indie horror flick, you’ll enjoy the hell out of one man’s fight to keep supernatural creatures off his lawn – preventing his own gruesome death.
While getting old is certainly no fun, blind war veteran Ambrose (Nick Damici) has had it rougher than most – but he’ll never show it. On his own, except for his trusty seeing eye dog, Ambrose’s son Will (Ethan Embry) has no choice but to check his father into a retirement complex, a rustic place where seniors get their own houses and can live in peace – until Ambrose discovers a suspicious slew of murders plaguing this supposedly safe community. After experiencing an attack first hand that kills his furry companion, Ambrose sets out to discover what attacked him – as he couldn’t actually see the monster. Are all the deaths just being caused by random animal attacks as the police suggest, or is there something much more horrifying eating through our golden oldies?
Late Phases works so well because of lead Nick Damici (Stake Land/We Are What We Are), an actor forced into perpetual blindness because of his character’s war stricken past. Not only playing up Ambrose’s loss of sight, Damici also embodies an ornery, self-reliant man who embraces the “late phases” of life with blunt one-liners and a comically serious tone, admitting retirement homes are just where seniors go to die – not live. Stolze offers a darkly comedic iteration of a man’s final years, slowly fading away amidst a sea of identical bingo-loving citizens. Ambrose’s inclination to never hold back lightens the mood while werewolves run about mauling victims, and Damici ensures his lead character possesses enough personality and gravitas to deserve such screen time.
Werewolf movies, or any monster intensive movies for that matter, rest heavily on the shoulders of effects workers striving to deliver realistic transformations that somehow make the preposterous notion of full-moon murderers seem plausible. You can go the route of Dog Solders, crafting brilliant costumes sporting ferociously furry baddies, or you can go The Wolfman route and computerize your demons. While proper animation certainly can excite visually, there’s nothing better than practical transformations that tear flesh, sharpen teeth, bust out claws, and cover characters with a silver coat.
Late Phases so wonderfully adapts the practical thinking of costumed werewolves, showing off a werewolf attacker very early on to get the blood pumping. While the beasts feel a tad cartoonish, in an extremely independent type of way, there’s also a devilishly loveable quality to Adrián García Bogliano’s werewolf creatures in a sweet kind of 80s throwback aura. Bogliano also gains points for showing a transformation fully, in the flesh, as a hairy-chested senior citizen sheds his likeness by (bloodlessly?) tearing away stretchy skin to reveal his true, vicious form. It’s no big-budget shocker, but as far as independent werewolf films go, Late Phases oozes pleasantly wicked werewolf craftsmanship that elevates memorability instead of treating true horror fans to some Dracula 3D special effects travesties.
Much like Stolze’s last horror film Under The Bed, which I totally dug, Late Phases starts off with a certifiable bang, but then languishes for a bit while building a story, only to come full circle with a strong finish sporting gore, kills, and brutal “animal attacks” that strike much more fear than a simple animal could. Patience is required for Late Phases, more so than Under The Bed, but once again we’re rewarded for our efforts by Stolze’s entertaining werewolf extravaganza that depicts a blind war veteran’s battle with cursed werewolves. Lacking the intensity of a Dog Soldiers scenario, Ambrose’s retaliation is a fun and punchy ending with enough payoff potential to justify slower moments of Ambrose’s detective work.
Late Phases isn’t a genre reinvention by any means, but it’s a completely palatable tale of big bad wolves and their violent tendencies. Injected with plenty of biting gore, Eric Stolze delivers another half slow burn/half thrill ride screenplay that grabs our attention, struggles to keep it, then comes full circle in a wacky battle for survival, showing that old age isn’t the only silent killer in this retirement village. Sporting a cheeky throwback vibe, Late Phases will surely entertain the howling mad werewolf fans anxiously awaiting more wolfy action – just don’t expect anything along the lines of an instant classic.
Late Phases may be an inconsistent watch, but when at full steam, this werewolf flick is a howlin' good time.