“When deadly beasts attack from the forest, it is up to a grizzled veteran to uncover what the residents of a secluded retirement community are hiding.” — IMDb
I won’t lie, I went into this with some slight reservation. Spanish director Adrián García Bogliano’s previous feature film, Here Comes the Devil, was NOT a favorite of mine. But I will give anyone a second chance, especially when it’s for the sake of a werewolf flick.
Late Phases focuses primarily around Ambrose (brilliantly played by Nick Damici), a willful, independent, and blind (the least important of his traits as far as he’s concerned) Vietnam veteran who moves into a retirement community with the help of his son, Will (Ethan Embry). Things start to go horribly wrong on his first night there, with both his neighbor and his service dog, Shadow, dying a grizzly death at the hands of an unknown animal attacker. While the police shrug it off quite casually as an animal coming into the community from the nearby woods, Ambrose is convinced it’s a werewolf, and he becomes determined to defeat it.
Firstly, Ambrose is just such a great character, and Nick Damici plays him so well. I feel like a character like that — the grizzled, determined-to-get-by-on-his-own war veteran — could so easily become almost a spoof, but he manages the perfect balance of serious determination and dry humor.
I appreciated the fact that it explored the concept of the elderly being forgotten and discarded. Ambrose is far from frail or dependent, and yet he is dropped off at the community to quietly live out his days. His son and his daughter-in-law treat him like he’s a 5-year-old, constantly rolling their eyes at things he says or insisting that they baby him. He’s physically capable of living just fine on his own, and yet his own mental state paired with the way he’s treated has resigned him to statements like “I don’t plan on being around much longer anyway” and “All I got left are consequences”.
There were a few scenes that were particularly awesome, but the one that stood out to me was when Will comes by to tell Ambrose that him and his wife are moving. Ambrose is already pretty deep into his obsession with defeating these werewolves, and he could really care less about Will’s skepticism. When Will leaves, Ambrose sort of slowly retreats back into the pitch blackness of the closet he had been hiding in, and it’s just… too good.
Considering the quality of the movie overall, it came as a pretty decent shock when I saw JUST HOW TERRIBLE THE WEREWOLVES WERE. I mean, WHOA. They were… so bad. The movie has its funny moments but it isn’t nearly campy enough to justify such terrible creatures. Depending on the scene they vary from just moderately unconvincing to “holy crap yeah that’s just a dude in a werewolf suit” to laugh-out-loud hilarious. In some they’re almost cute in the way that only a man-sized rat could be. I think the shock factor would have been much higher if they had kept them more in the shadows, and some scenes (punching through the wall towards the beginning, appearing in the headlights of the car and then punching through the windshield) could have been BADASS had they not been so laughable.
Same with the transformation scene. I mean, everything pales in comparison to the transformation in An American Werewolf in London, really, so why even bother. I did like the initial bursting open of his skin and him pulling the rest of his face off though… that was cool.
But despite how awful they looked, it was an interesting twist that the werewolves’ existence gave Ambrose new life. He went from a state of depression and hopelessness to doing push-ups in the livingroom and crafting a plan to defeat them. It gave him direction.
Oh, and bonus shoutout to Tom Noonan, who plays Father Roger Smith — always such an amazing supporting character, and a huge favorite of mine ever since his role as John Lee Roche in the The X-Files’ “Paper Hearts” episode (so good).
Overall, a super strong werewolf movie, which I think is pretty hard to pull off.
Rating: 6.5/10 | Director: Adrián García Bogliano | Writer: Eric Stolze | Music: Wojciech Golczewski | Starring: Nick Damici, Ethan Embry, Tom Noonan, Lance Guest, Tina Louise, Rutanya Alda, Caitlin O’Heaney, Karen Lynn Gorney, Erin Cummings