Much more than Gran Torino with werewolves
“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.
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 after some hard-nosed sleuthing about 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.
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.
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 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.
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