It bites chunks out of most modern takes on the myth and spits them out
Late Phases Film Review
“People don’t come to places like this to live. They come here to die.”Ambrose McKinley (Nick Damici) is a decorated war-veteran, stoic, resilient and as tough as nails. He pulls no punches, makes no apologies and takes no prisoners. He is also blind. But although emotionally scarred by difficult family circumstances, Ambrose is going to find his biggest battle will be fought in the seemingly idyllic retirement community of Crescent Bay. On his first night there, under a full moon, his kindly neighbour is attacked and killed by something that uses claws and teeth. His loyal guide-dog is also slain whilst trying to protect her. Shell-shocked and stonewalled by the local police and the apathy of the neighbourhood, Ambrose, alone, understands the nature of the beast, and sets about some hard-nosed sleuthing in an increasingly hostile community, which clearly harbours a dreadful secret within its quirky Stepford charade.He sets about preparing to face the monster in their midst when the full moon rises again at the end of the month. Adrian Garcia Bogliano’s award-winning film employs admirably conceived though hit-and-miss practical FX, a strong and literate screenplay, wonderful performances from Damici and genre vets Tom Noonan and Lance Guest, and cranks up the tension superbly as Ambrose prepares for a ferocious showdown and his finest hour. Great photography, a brooding score and a main character that genuinely inspires whilst never once being played for sympathy ensure that Late Phases leaves a lasting impression and truly stands out from the pack. Much more than Gran Torino with werewolves, I think it is a brilliant film and recommend it wholeheartedly.
Blu-ray Picture QualityLate Phases has been shot digitally and the resulting 2.39:1 transfer is surely as accurate as can be. Encoded via AVC, the image has a deliberate autumnal aspect, very much emphasising browns and yellows, which gives it a uniquely burnished cast. The digital photography does not avoid the sometimes “glassy” veneer that can betray its inorganic origins, but this is still times when it delivers a very fine looking picture indeed. Contrast can run hot, with some hazy highlights but, once again, I think this is all part of the desired appearance. And the shadow-play, so essential to a film like this, is splendid. Black levels are very deep and assured. The moment when Ambrose, after a painful revelation with his son (Ethan Embry) is left alone with his thoughts, provides a terrific example of these deep-set blacks as our blind hero slowly, perhaps symbolically, withdraws into the protective shadows that seep, like a Stygian soup, across his face.
Thankfully, there is no loss of detail in these shadows. Beasts on the hunt are clearly defined as they slink past windows or scavenge about in the gardens. Bullets sliding into the murk are all discernible as Ambrose grasps for them. The insignia and ribbons on his uniform are nicely resolved amidst the shadows. Spraying showers of blood – and there is plenty splashing about the place – are picked out well. One welter of grue that peppers Ambrose’s face is etched with particular clarity.
Beasts on the hunt are clearly defined as they slink past windows.
Close-up detail is frequently excellent. The image really picks out things such as Ambrose’s milky eyes and liver spots, even though they are stick-on age FX; stray whiskers on aged faces, let alone those of a more lycanthropic nature; wounds and wolf wreckage. But I did not find it completely consistent. In some scenes, facial detail is at premium, yet in others it becomes quite bland and slightly blurred. This did not hamper my enjoyment of the film in any way, I should add. And whilst some of the more panoramic visuals can be clean and sharp and distinct, there are occasions when these, too, lose integrity.
There is a pleasing amount of depth to the frame. Distance shots, such as views down the streets of the community, sightings of the beast on the prowl, or just group shots of the neighbours in the church, and carefully composed shots of Ambrose moving about his property, preparing, training provide a fine degree of immersion. I did catch some very slight ghosting during some of the panning shots or character movements seen in the mid-ground during the daytime exteriors. And there was some shimmering taking place on the roof-tiles that momentarily distracted me. But, by and large, this digital image is free from gremlins.
The spectrum, as I have already said, favours the earthy tones, but primaries certainly have vitality when called for. Blood is very dark, but clothing and the odd bit of greenery can inject something of a spark.
Overall, this is a great image that gets far more right than it does wrong.
Blu-ray Sound QualityThere are two audio options on offer – 5.1 DTS-HD MA and 2.0 PCM lossless. It is a no-brainer to stick with the full surround, if you can, because this track makes great use of all the channels and packs a thunderclap wallop during the tour de force action sequences.
This said, Late Phases might not go the extra mile in the sound design department in the enjoyable overkill style of many current blockbusters, but a concerted effort has been made to provide a degree of clarity and enhancement to the effects and the overall ambience to help give us an understanding of, and an empathy with Ambrose’s acutely realised hearing. Without sight, his other senses are heightened, and this translates to picking up on atmospheric changes, whispered voices, furry-footed stealth and all manner of nocturnal noises. A nice touch is the repeated sound of a distant, unseen train that is very convincing.
This is a werewolf flick... so expect things to get very animalistic.
There is grunting, snuffling, growling, howling and roaring aplenty. Some of this is nicely steered around the set-up, and there are a distinct couple of look-over-your-shoulder instances. Whenever Ambrose puts in his hearing aid and zaps up the sound, this appreciably exaggerates the soundfield. Heartbeats rush and blood pounds. Wheezing and coughing are clues, and when dogs start barking, then all hell is going to break loose. Directionality of these effects is more than up to the task of placing you in the middle of this weird, geriatric battleground.And a battle is definitely what you get. Gunshots are beautifully rendered. Shotgun blasts roar, rifles crack and revolvers belch. Such ballistics have sonic variety and sound authentic. The numerous bodily impacts have weight and a meaty punch as homes are wrecked during attacks. Crashing windows, shattering windscreens, exploding doors and walls are a splintering delight of micromanaged aural devastation.All of this comes alive during the bombastic finale, giving you your money’s worth in a blitzkrieg of suburban warfare.
The film has a wonderfully brooding and darkly ambient score from Wojciech Golczewski. This covers some spatial ground and fills the room with moody melancholia. Its depth is certainly felt and its doom-laden pulse really adds tension and gravity, as well as a sense of unavoidable fate. Vivaldi makes his presence felt, too... but I found the use of a modern choral piece profoundly affecting during one montage sequence, thanks to its resonant and powerful delivery here.
The sub is brought into play and dialogue is always clean and clear, with the unusually soft voice of Tom Noonan and the fabulously rich Brooklyn brogue of Damici providing a neat contrast of vocals.
Despite our hero being an old guy and the action contained within a retirement community, this is a galvanising, punishing tracks that makes no errors and, like Ambrose, pulls no punches.
Blu-ray ExtrasDark Sky Films and MPI present Late Phases with a commentary by its director Adrian Garcia Bogliano in which he discusses how he became involved with the story and the production. He gets quite technical and detailed about the specific look and sound of the film, proving that he had a determined vision for it. But, although he provides a fair amount of material, I would have liked either a companion for him to bounce his memories off, or another track to complement his own with the likes of Damici, Guest or Noonan (or all three). Damici is a true down-to-earth actor and his opinions are undiluted gold.
We are also provided with a 14-minute Making Of that brings in producers Larry Fessenden, who also appears in the film as the headstone salesman, and Brent Kunkle, the director Bogliano and the star, Nick Damici. Although only a short piece, this is nicely packed with opinion, intent and insight and, with the aid of behind the scenes footage and make-up tests, covers a lot of ground. Damici tells us how he prepared for the role of a sightless man via blindfolds and then training to use only his peripheral vision, and he certainly paid attention because he does it very convincingly. This is a good little piece.
In the half-hour FX Featurette we are taken on a tour around Robert Kurtzman’s studio to meet the various artists working on the monster-design. Now, Kurtzman is a god, what with his work for KNB (Evil Dead 2, Day of the Dead etc) alongside Greg Nicotero, who continues his astonishing makeup invention and even episode direction for AMC’s The Walking Dead, but Kurtzman and his people haven’t really brought much kudos to the renowned KNB door with their werewolf designs or creations here, I’m afraid. As much as I love this film, and I hold it very dear, I am surprised at how silly the full loup garou costumes are. I have a werewolf costume, bought off eBay, of grey fur, built-up chest, arms and shoulders, wicked long talons and paws and an astonishingly effective animatronic wolf-head that is a hundred times more convincing than the beasts served up here. This mini-doc does examine why the beasts look this way, of course, and you will come away from it with a touch more fondness for them. But although I find the FX-work wanting, their inept and lacklustre appearance is not enough to tarnish my appreciation of what could become a modern classic.
As well as some other previews, the disc also contains the film’s very effective theatrical trailer.
Late Phases Blu-ray Verdict“The only thing I was ever any good at was being a soldier. That’s what I am and that’s how I’m going out.”
As I have testified many times in reviews, the werewolf is my preferred monster from the pantheon of bestiary. But even I have to concede that he has been poorly served by the movies he skulks about in. Barring the classics from Universal and the genre titans of American Werewolf and The Howling, clever, witty, thrilling and entertaining lycanthropic adventures have been few and far between. Fur-fans will no doubt see the cool affiliation this film has with the Stephen King adaptation Silver Bullet, though this is much more stylish and idiosyncratic. It bites chunks out of most modern takes on the myth and spits them out. Jason Momoa may appear to be perfect casting for a full-moon fiend, but the teen-rampager of Wolves misfired on almost every level.
Even the well-intentioned and enthusiastically low-budget Wolf Cop stretched its supernatural joke way too far and ultimately outstayed its welcome. So it is with immense relief and pleasure to come across the fanged and furry majesty of Late Phases.
Opening and closing with blood ‘n’ thunder set-piece mayhem, this is a slow-burn mood-piece. Part detective yarn, part character study, part fatalistic final mission, it is owned by a gritty, authentic and totally committed performance from Nick Damici as the blind warrior whose unbowed courage is matched by his own sense of wily cunning, a wry and curmudgeonly nature... and a few neat tricks up the sleeve of his proud dress uniform. The violent salvos that bookend the film are exciting and suspenseful, but the simmering pathos of the story and the main character are what provide the unique pace and psychological symmetry of Adrian Garcia Bogliano’s terror-tale, building to a climactic showdown that I, for one, found stunningly brutal and actually incredibly moving. I’m not ashamed to admit that it has left me choked me up every time I’ve seen it.
In fact, it is because of just how good the surrounding character-play and the understated emotional aspects of the story are that the film surmounts the surprisingly shoddy creature-effects. Now, don’t get me wrong – there are narrative reasons the werewolf look seen here isn’t quite as impressive as you would hope. This is a retirement community, remember. Even so, if the direction and the acting and the sustained atmosphere of dread and confrontation weren’t so inspired, Late Phases could well have been derailed by them. Indeed, there are images here that prove indelible.
The violent salvos that bookend the film are exciting and suspenseful.
I was lucky enough to have caught this movie quite some time ago, but was stunned when it didn’t get much of a release anywhere. After garnering great festival reviews and fine word of mouth – not least from me banging-on about it to all and sundry – the film seemed to sink into video download oblivion from Amazon, so this superb Region A Blu-ray release from Dark Sky feels both well-deserved and long overdue. With a largely great image and a suitably vicious sound design and sparse, but worthwhile supplements, this US disc comes highly recommended, even if it has been saddled with the rather lame and unnecessary subtitle of Night of the Lone Wolf. Let us just hope that it finds the audience it so desperately craves and that this is not just a case of shutting the kennel door after the wolf has bolted.
This one is there with a silver bullet.
You can buy Late Phases on Blu-ray here
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