One of America's
Dir. Adrián García Bogliano
Scr. Eric Stolze
Pro. Larry Fessenden
Starring: Nick Damici, Ethan Embry, Tom Noonan, Lance Guest, Erin Cummings, Tina Louise, Rutanya Alda, Karen Lynn Gorney, Caitlin O'Heaney
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Nick Damici is one of the best actors working in America today and he continues to dazzle us in Late Phases as a blind, retired war veteran who grudgingly settles in a retirement community plagued by an especially nasty werewolf. Damici, of course, is the terrific screenwriter who works with the extraordinary Jim Mickle and has scribed several great scripts that he's also acted in (Stake Land, Mulberry Street, We Are What We Are, Cold in July). He's got a rough-hewn handsome tough-guy quality and in another world, he'd have been as big a star as the late, great Charles Bronson (albeit with somewhat wider acting chops than the 70s action star of Death Wish, et al). With Late Phases, his versatility is a fait accompli.
From a strangely sensitive screenplay by Eric Stolze (this is a werewolf movie, after all), director Adrián García Bogliano weaves a compelling exploration of society's cast-offs - people of august years whose families insist they live in gated, monitored havens where they exist safely away from the hustle and bustle of lives they once actively led. In many cases, the forced relocation of our elders has the more insidious undertone of not just keeping them away from harm, but simply getting them out of the way, a sentiment which can also manifest itself quite overtly.
Stolze's thoughtful, intelligent and resolutely character-driven genre script also plays with the late phases of the lunar cycle when, just after a full moon, there is a period of calm in werewolf country as the moon settles benignly into its last quarter, new moon and then, first quarter phases. It's here, during this month of calm where one can best prepare for the next onslaught of a werewolf attack. (Sorry to get all egghead on you here, but these are genuinely elements which add to this film being such an exceptional genre piece.)
Damici's character Ambrose isn't even a bonafide senior citizen. Still in his early fifties, he's none too happy that his son Will (Ethan Embry) has packed him off into this place where many go to die.
And die they do.
Soon after Ambrose settles in with his seeing-eye dog, one of the seniors is savagely attacked - torn to ribbons, in fact. Ambrose himself narrowly misses getting munched. The idiot police chalk up the death to "another" (!!!) animal attack in the area. After all, the retirement community is on the outskirts of town just next to a deep upstate New York forest.
Ambrose isn't buying it. He wasn't born yesterday. He's seen things in war, in far-flung lands, that many of us will never, nor would even want to see. Though he is now afflicted with blindness, he's kept himself trim, fit, sharp and has learned to wend his way around, with or without his seeing-eye dog. Ambrose is a soldier, a dyed-in-the-wool, much-decorated, ass-kicking killer. His senses were always sharp, but now, in blindness, all his other senses have become even more attuned to the world around him.
Most importantly, Ambrose has maintained the right to bear plenty of firearms and good Goddamn, he knows how to use them - blind or not, so much so that when he concludes that a werewolf is indeed the culprit, he even gets a local gunsmith to manufacture silver bullets for his humungous double-barrelled shotgun.
Blood will be spilled, but it won't be his, nor any others living in his community.
This is, as far as werewolf movies go, a new classic to add to a mighty pile which includes George Waggner's The Wolf Man, Terence Fisher's Curse of the Werewolf, John Landis's An American Werewolf in London Michael Wadleigh's Wolfen, Joe Dante's The Howling and John Fawcett's Ginger Snaps. In addition to Stolze's script (with, God forbid, a story, characters and subtext), it's solidly directed, features good, old-fashioned transformation effects (no bullshit digital here, thanks) and, of course, the one, the only Nick Damici.
As a delightful bonus, Ambrose's journey includes a trip into religious fundamentalism land when he grudgingly decides to attend a local church in spite of his agnosticism just to get to know some people outside of the land of the living dead retirement community. Here, he meets the creepy, though erudite Father Roger (salaciously played by the great character actor Tom Noonan) and their strange friendship adds considerable resonance to an already rich tale.
Besides, can any movie featuring supporting roles for Tina Louise (Ginger Grant on Gilligan's Island) and Karen Lynn Gorney (John Travolta's ice-queen dance partner from Saturday Night Fever) be anything less than first-rate?
I thought not.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** 4-Stars
Late Phases had its Canadian Premiere at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2014.