This was a last minute addition to this year’s Shocktober. For awhile now Late Phases had been floating around in my “Recommended for You” section on Netflix. Usually, I ignore those– but who knows, maybe I’d really like The Bernie Mac Show–but Late Phases always grabbed my attention with its striking image of a howling red werewolf. So I looked into it and I’m glad I did. Late Phases is my favorite movie I’ve watched this October.
The premise is ingenious. Nick Damici (who I wrote about in my review of Stake Land) plays Ambrose McKinley, a grizzled Vietnam vet with a Brooklyn accent and a closet full of skeletons (not literally of course, though that would be cool). Old and blind, Ambrose is taken by his son Will (Ethan Embry) to live in a planned community of duplexes, mostly populated by seniors. Things seem fine until a freak animal attack takes the life of Ambrose’s neighbor and his beloved seeing eye dog. Now it’s personal.
Learning these animal attacks have occurred in the area before, Ambrose prepares himself for the worst. He investigates the area, his neighbors, buys guns and a few silver bullets. Aware that his military experience may not be enough to overcome his handicap, Ambrose prepares for the worst with strict determination. Think of it as the final act of Gran Torino, except with werewolves.
Ambrose’s neighbors are played by a bevy of veteran actors including; Rutanya Alda, Caitlin O’Heaney, Tina Louise aka Ginger from Gilligan’s Island, Lance Guest and the vastly underrated Tom Noonan as a local pastor. The cast is solid, though it’s Nick Damici that steals the show.
In my Stake Land review, I couldn’t understand why Nick Damici wasn’t a bigger star. Now I’m dumbfounded. The man is ridiculously talented. Not only does Damici have the difficult task of portraying a blind man in a believable fashion, he’s also playing a character far older than his actual age (Damici was only in his mid-50s). Yet he’s intimidating, funny, and sympathetic all in one. Does Tarantino know about this guy? Because he would be perfect. He would be perfect for anything. The man is an A-list talent in B-list productions.
I don’t want to spoil the story, so let’s talk about the werewolves. They suck. The makeup on the faces is passable, but the suits are so bad. They look like Power Ranger villains. I will give the filmmakers credit for trying to hide the werewolves with good lighting but they still look bad. Normally, I wouldn’t be too hard on a subpar special effect in a B-Movie, but the rest of the film is so good, it sticks out like a sore paw.
Fortunately, the werewolves don’t occupy much of the story. Which is why I think the film has such a mixed response online. Many find the numerous scenes of old people talking boring, I think they’re engrossing. Particularly, the scenes between Nick Damici and Tom Noonan. You just don’t get enough Tom Noonan these days. Except in Anomolisa. You get WAY TOO MUCH Tom Noonan in Anomalisa.
Don’t let the so-so 69% on Rotten Tomatoes deceive you, Late Phases is a great film. It has engaging characters with strong motivations in entertaining situations. It’s rare I see a unique take on the werewolf genre, but Late Phases is indeed unique. Try to see it soon… before the next full moon.