Actor Nick Damici has been a familiar face in horror recently, with impressive turns in post-apocalyptic Stakeland (2010) as paternal vampire hunter ‘Mister’, or as the writer of domestic cannibal drama We Are What We Are (2013) and neo – noir Cold in July (2014). He has always been a charming presence but has never been given a lead part until Late Phases, a werewolf movie set in the thematically rich landscape of a woodland retirement community where ‘people are sent to die … not live’ . Director Adrian Garcia Bogliano and writer Eric Stolze’s take on the werewolf movie is refreshing in the sense it is character based, with Damici’s character Ambrose functioning as the chugging engine driving the film – transformed via old age makeup into a blind war veteran 15 – 20 years his senior.
The plot revolves Damici’s characters transition to the retirement community of ‘Crescent Bay’ where the issue of ‘animal attacks’ are swept under the proverbial rug by the authorities despite the communities saccharine ‘Pleasantville’ image . While the similar story set – up of Bubba ho Tep (2002) combined geriatric horror and themes of mortality in a tongue in cheek fashion, Late Phases takes its subject matter a little more seriously – unintentionally aping Edinburgh Film Festival hit Greyhawk (2014) and it’s exploration of blind war veterans overcoming their personal demons and stubborn apathy towards disability. When it comes to the obligatory ‘big transformation scene’ in Late Phases director Bolgliano amps up proceedings with practical effects and unique cinematography in a scene that pans between a transformation and an intended victim in real time with a gruesome little touch that I like to call ‘off screen dental explosion’.
Although the complex relationship between Damici’s character and his son is perhaps slightly un-resolved and underdeveloped – becoming tarred over in the action filled finale – Damici’s dialogues with Tom Noonan’s priest character emanate dramatic power while Lance Guest’s character briefly touches upon the monstrous tragedy of living with lycanthropy. If the films main flaw revolves around an anti – climax to the story of Damici’s military man Ambrose, Late Phases remains a flick that is both stylistically interesting and emotionally resonant, with director Adrian Garcia Bogliano achieving his intention of creating a werewolf movie with a unique feel and empathetic characters who are more than hunks of flesh queuing at the meat-grinder.
Although it was by no means the best horror movie at Frightfest, I would happily permit Late Phases to share the full moon with classics American Werewolf in London (1981) and The Howling (1981) not only because of Beki Ingram’s and Robert Kurzman’s brilliant 1980s inspired creature designs but because of Bogliano’s ambition, Eric Stolze’s tragicomedy and an unforgettable lead performance from Damici.
Director: Adrian Garcia Bogliano
Cast: Nick Damici, Ethan Embry, Tom Noonan, Tina Louise, Rutanya Alda
Runtime: 97 mins
Country: USA 2014