Cinemetal Review: It’s Elderly Blind Vet Vs. Werewolf in Late Phases
If I just gave you the log line for Late Phases, you’d think I was describing a comedy: Ambrose, a recently widowed, blind Vietnam vet, moves into a gated community for the elderly, where he seeks revenge after a werewolf kills his beloved seeing eye dog. That’s a ridiculous premise, even for a horror movie, and in the hands of a self-aware filmmaker, it could be a total hoot. Alas, Adrián García Bogliano (Here Comes the Devil) does not seem to be that filmmaker, and Late Phases ends up being the most boring movie about an aging blind veteran fighting a werewolf ever made.
The movie is such a mess, it’s hard to know where to even begin. Let’s get what’s good about the flick out of the way first, since it won’t take very long: the cinematography, by Ernesto Herrera, and the score, by Wojciech Golczewski, are both very pretty. Nick Damici, who plays Ambrose, the aging vet, is very convincing as a surly blind man. It’s always nice to see Tom Noonan working, even in a role as thankless as the one he plays here. And for the most part, Robert Kurtzman’s practical gore and creature effects are typically awesome (for the most part — more on that in a moment).
But, uh, that’s it. The movie is otherwise riddled with issues, large and small, which all compound to kill it dead.
For one thing, Ambrose isn’t sympathetic and is only just barely empathetic; we understand why he’s such a prick all the time (blind, wife is dead, killed children in ‘Nam, etc.), but there’s nothing particularly interesting about his prickishness; because we literally only see him be polite to one person ever, he lacks layers that are fun to peel back. (And honestly, there a lot of the characters that suffer his wrath really did not have it coming. He seems to hate his daughter-in-law, for example, because she treats him like a blind old man. Which, again, he is.) Bogliano and screenwriter Eric Stolze don’t even ring much tension out of the fact that he’s blind, Wait Until Dark-style; he stumbles around a bit, but he’s never forced to use his wits to compensate for his lack of vision (he’s very handy with a firearm). And even those might not be such issues if he were a comedically cynical, but he is wholly lacking in any sense of humor whatsoever. There is nothing fun about spending ninety minutes with this character.
Which leads to the film’s second massive problem: an irreconcilable tonal clash. Half the cast seems to think they’re acting in a naturalistic William Friedkin film, and the other half appear to think they’re acting in a Joe Dante-directed live action cartoon. A trio of female neighbors, for example, are caricaturish WASPs; I think they were intended to be like Ruth Gordon’s amazing character in Rosemary’s Baby — equal parts hilarious and creepy — but neither the material nor the actors are up to the task.
And as if all that weren’t already enough… holy moly, does the werewolf ever look ridiculous. Its mostly-static face and oversized head give it the appearance of a character from a children’s program, only with some blood on its mouth. I don’t know if it was a bizarre aesthetic choice or they just ran out of money, but, oy. Just… oy. The character’s big transformation scene is a major letdown, too: it’s almost a shot-for-shot rip-off of the one from An American Werewolf in London. It conjures up unflattering fantasies about what John Landis might have done with this same material.
But the film’s biggest problem is this: in a genre that rests almost entirely on the suspension of disbelief, Late Phases has at its center a question so baffling as to distract from the entire story — specifically, “Why the hell would anyone put their aging parents in this gated community?!?” The attack on Ambrose and his dog, which also leaves a neighbor dead, isn’t the first this community has experienced — the police later tell Ambrose that incidents like these happen once a month (whenever there’s a full moon, natch). That’s a minimum of twelve half-eaten senior citizens (and, as we learn, a seemingly countless number of dogs) a year! Why aren’t the authorities, like, a BILLION times more concerned about this? And are these old folks’ children really such assholes that they’re willing to bet their parents’ lives on those odds? It doesn’t seem that way: Ambrose’s son is clearly not as dutiful as he ought to be, but nothing he does suggests he’s malicious. Is it a money issue? The daughter of Ambrose’s chewed-up neighbor admits she’d heard stories about the attacks, but suggests she had no other options — but this gated community is so idyllic, it’s hard to believe any of these people don’t have money. Again, a more self-aware director might have found humor in everyone’s casual lack of concern, but Bogliano ain’t that director. Bummer.
Late Phases is out now in select theaters and on VOD.