Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Late Phases tells the story of Ambrose McKinley, a blind, aging Vietnam War vet (superbly played by Nick Damici) who moves into a retirement community only to find out that it is preyed upon every full moon by a blood thirsty werewolf who lives in the neighboring woods. In fact, the very first night Ambrose moves in happens to be the full moon and he hears his neighbor get brutally killed as well as his seeing eye dog, Shadow. And just like that the story is off and running.
The opening shows little of the werewolf and focuses more on it's silhouette and blood curdling scream. There are just enough quick cuts to show the creature's teeth but the rest is left to the imagination. The scream and growling here are very effective and downright terrifying, they go right to the center of your bones and stay there.
From here the movie slows down and starts unfolding it's story, which plays out like a whodunnit with Ambrose meeting some of the townspeople and sizing them up like a detective. He even reminded me of an aged Humphrey Bogart trying to crack the case of who or what is the werewolf. One of these townspeople and suspects is Father Roger, portrayed expertly by the cool Tom Noonan. The relationship between these two is one of mutual respect, mutual curiosity, and mutual suspicion. It's great fun to watch Damici and Noonan converse with each other with some strong dialogue to really showcase their talent. Another relationship the movie offers is between Ambrose and his son, Will (Ethan Embry). There's more great character development on display here as we learn about the troubled and strained but quietly loving father son relationship that really raises the stakes of the movie. A very cool original score and some all around solid acting top off the unraveling of Late Phases as it heads into it's final act.
There's some interesting atmosphere and themes playing out here as well. The lighting in the film during the day always seems to be at the time of sunset, that early sunset when the lighting is very yellow. I couldn't help but see the yellow from a full moon, that rich color of a full Harvest Moon. I found this to be a nice touch, whether it was purposefully done or just a creation in my mind.
A theme in the movie might be a play on the title itself, Late Phases. Ambrose is a broken man from Vietnam, saying in one scene that he, "went there to save people," but he lost himself instead. This final act in his life is a chance at redemption, a chance to save the town from the werewolf. Not only does this climax during the late phases of the moon, but also the late phases of Ambrose's life.
The werewolf returns in the end for the big finale and there is a transformation scene where we see the creature turn and it is some wonderful camera movement used to heighten the effect as it glides around the room and to the creature showing it as it pans by and glides back across the room and to the onlooking character and back to the creature. It's a dizzying sense that matches what is happening as the werewolf comes out and it is a joy to watch.
The only two minor problems I had with the film happen at this point. I felt the finale was a bit rushed, I wanted more of the werewolf and it's nightmare inducing scream and startling quick movements and it seemed over quickly. The other issue is the look of the werewolf itself. The camera settles more on the beast in these scenes and we get to see it's face longer. While I won't complain too much about a low budget, independent horror films special effects because I know they use every dollar they can, I was hoping for more of a make-up created werewolf as opposed to a mask looking werewolf. Let me stress that this was a minor issue for me, I just felt it was set up so well and mysteriously in the beginning that I guess it couldn't live up to that standard.
Overall I really enjoyed watching Late Phases and dug the whole whodunnit angle mixed with a werewolf story. I applaud the filmmakers for taking their time to tell a character driven story with strong performances, something horror needs more of. Go watch Late Phases and try not to hear that werewolf scream while you try to sleep at night.