Studio: Dark Sky Films
Director: Adrian Garcia Bogliano
Writer: Eric Stolze
Producer: Zak Zeman, Greg Newman, Larry Fessenden, Brent Kunkle
Stars: Nick Damici, Ethan Embry, Lance Guest, Erin Cummings, Rutanya Alda, Tina Louise, Al Sapienza, Caitlin O’Heaney, Karen Lynn Gorney, Dana Ashbrook, Tom Noonan
After moving to a retirement community near the woods, a blind war veteran comes to believe that his elderly neighbors are being stalked by a werewolf.
Adrian Garcia Bogliano has a directorial style that employs a measured tempo for gradually establishing mood. In an interpretive thriller such as his previous effort “Here Comes the Devil” (review here), that technique gives a dark tone time to gestate and to seep into the audience’s subconscious. In that instance, it works effectively in support of a story involving symbolism and subtext.
In “Late Phases” (with the subtitle "Night of the Lone Wolf" added for its home video release), a more straightforward horror yarn about one man’s war against a werewolf, Bogliano’s less than nimble pacing makes for a movie requiring an investment of patience that never sees a solid return from the onscreen action. Or lack thereof.
Nick Damici is Ambrose, a Vietnam veteran who returned from the war with two blind eyes and a practically permanent scowl to reflect his perpetually salty demeanor. Damici infuses Ambrose with all the earmarks of New York Italian attitude one would expect of a grizzled ex-soldier as likely to give you the back of his hand as he would a harrumph for instigating any test of his patience.
His son Will, played by Ethan Embry, knows this all too well, which is why he is shipping his father off to the Crescent Bay retirement community instead of moving the old man in with his own family. Ambrose is resigned to his fate anyway. Since the passing of his wife, Ambrose has devolved into the type of geriatric who patiently waits out his twilight time wallowing in gruff pessimism and self-reflective ennui.
Or at least, that was his plan until a werewolf decided to make monthly meals out of the senior citizens in Crescent Bay. Having been in the community for barely a day, the packing tape is not even removed from the cardboard boxes when Ambrose realizes that the savage animal mauling that claimed the life of his neighbor is related to the full moon. Now Ambrose has four weeks to figure out how to save himself from becoming the next victim and to avenge the death of his faithful service dog Shadow.
How does Ambrose spend those four weeks until the next full moon? Mostly by digging a hole to bury his dog in. He may be blind, but he still knows how to use a shovel on loose dirt. So the only explanation for why it takes Ambrose a full month to complete a simple task like this one is because the entire script for “Late Phases” operates on a premise of introducing elements that go nowhere while taking their sweet time getting there.
For a time, “Late Phases” puts on the appearance of developing into a character study about a retired veteran coming to terms with his mortality and/or rectifying the strained relationships with his son and neighbors. A werewolf scenario is certainly an appropriate milieu for ruminations on metaphorical and physical transformation. Alas, that aspect never reaches a satisfying fruition, leaving Damici and the rest of the cast to flesh out roles with flashes of personality in a movie that does not have one of its own.
Had the story required grumpy Ambrose to reform his stubborn ways in order to battle the terrorizing creature, it might have worked in that regard. Instead, “Late Phases” ambles about in nondescript territory that is never humorously satirical, sensibly dramatic, or frighteningly scary.
Concepts introduced merely die on the vine before ripening, not the least of which is the fact that Ambrose is blind. That handicap should serve some sort of distinguishable advantage to the role or to the plot, instead of being mostly ironic that he is the only one who can see the looming danger for its true lycanthropic nature.
Makeup effects artist Robert Kurtzman turns in werewolf work that suggests his former KNB EFX studio might be better off with just the N and the B. The hairy beast in “Late Phases” can be best described as resembling a costumed sports team mascot with a cartoonish appearance that is impossible to take seriously.
“Late Phases” boasts acting turns that at least elevate the slimly written material. Tom Noonan does what Tom Noonan does best by living in his dialogue as if he is really thinking about his words rather than simply reciting them. Dana Ashbrook nearly steals his brief scene as a hush-hush guns and ammo dealer with unfortunately too little to do in the movie. Damici and Embry are similarly on the money, the entire cast is in fact, but the script does not have enough meat on its bones to properly utilize the talent.
As a result, the plot primarily leaves Ambrose to wait out the moon phase until the creature can strike again, and the audience is forced to sit and wait with him. The meanwhile is occupied with a blind man version of the Rocky training montage, poor visual effects, and the aforementioned hole digging.
If that sounds like a misfire in the werewolf sub-genre, that is because it is. “Late Phases” ends up making a place for itself at the top of the list of werewolf movies least desirable for a repeat viewing. And that is a disappointment indeed.
Review Score: 45