US | 2014 | Directed by Adrian Garcia Bogliano
Logline: A blind war veteran moves into a retirement community and discovers the dog attacks on residents aren’t from dogs at all, but something far sinister.
There’s an elusive quality to the movies of Bogliano, a kind of drifting atmosphere that lingers, like the acrid smell of gunpowder, or the sickly-sweet scent of musk from a wounded animal. A prolific filmmaker with eleven features in ten years under his belt, Bogliano loves putting his protagonists in the lurch, in extended jeopardy, under extreme pressure, having them spooked, or just plain terrorised.
His best work is, arguably, also one of the most powerful and atmospheric rape-revenge movies ever made; I’ll Never Die Alone. Late Phases isn’t anywhere near on the same level, but it provides enough intrigue to warrant watching through to the end. What makes Late Phases more interesting than not, is that it deals with lycanthropy. I’m always game for a lupine nightmare, but the problem is, there are so few that are actually above-average as horror movies.
Late Phases slides between being a creature feature and a character study, but can’t seem to work out which one it really wants to be. For a beastly nightmare, there’s precious little transformation, but there’s a lot of groping and snarling in the dark, and Ambrose isn't the most empathatic guy on the block.
Ambrose (Nick Damici) is a grumpy and blind war veteran who reluctantly moves into a retirement village on the recommendation of his son Will (Ethan Embry), and is befriended by his neighbor Gloria (Rutanya Alda), and local padre, Father Roger (Tom Noonan). Ambrose has his trusted seeing-eye dog at this side, but everything is torn asunder when Ambrose is attacked in his home by some kind of large ferocious dog, leaving his own canine mortally wounded.
It becomes apparent the dog attack is not random, but one of a series of focused home invasions. It’s no dog that is the culprit, but instead, a huge werewolf. Now armed with a spade as his trusty blindman’s crutch, and his faithful revolver, it’s up to Ambrose to end the cycle of lunar violence. Can he peer past his disability, and stare down the abyss?
Bogliano has opted for an old school approach for his first English-language movie, employing the prosthetics talents of Robert Kurtzman (of legendary KNB fame). There's a decent gore gag, but the man-in-a-suit isn’t the most frightening werewolf we’ve seen, looking like a cross between the statuesque beasts from the action-fest Dog Soldiers and the pig-nosed snout from the brilliant An American Werewolf in London (a movie still very hard to beat). However, the actual transformation that is depicted, late in the game, is easily the set-piece highlight of the entire movie.
It's a shame then that Late Phases is a movie that meanders along, promising much more than it ever delivers (the US poster art is certainly misleading). The performances are adequate at best, with only little of Bogliano’s character edginess that has made his earlier movies, for example, Here Comes the Devil, so disquietingly memorable. Late Phases feels more like a TV movie with hairy benefits. I howl quietly in disappointment.