Werewolves have been used in the past to sink their teeth into themes of puberty, teenage angst, infidelity and sexuality, and fears of alienation and uncontrollable power. Save for John Carradine's old werewolf in the The Howling – who laments his existence and threatens to end it – never has lycanthropy been applied to the elderly. It's usually a young pup's game. That changes with the Late Phases, Adrian Garcia Bogliano's English language feature debut, a genuine wolf in sheep's clothing.
On the outside, the film is rumination on family, old age, death and faith. This is what writer Eric Stolze and Bogliano are most interested in and it's embodied by Nick Damici's Ambrose, a blind war veteran who, with the help of his son Will (Ethan Embry), moves into a retirement community with his seeing eye dog. Not long after moving in, Ambrose becomes the victim of a werewolf attack on the night of a full moon (naturally). He suffers no bites, however, he loses his dog and his neighbor is slaughtered. Late Phases then becomes a thoughtful, if somewhat languid, character piece that often makes you forget that, at its core, it's a gory werewolf film altogether.
Following the attack, Ambrose – Damici, who grumbles and effortlessly plays the role – spends the next month learning about the others in his community (including Lance Guest), chatting it up with the local priest (Tom Noonan) and preparing for an inevitable rematch with the werewolf feasting on his neighbors.
Although not nearly as weird as Bogliano's previous efforts, Late Phases is a humble and occasionally thrilling effort, but it's broadly a mixed bag that's obviously going for the Bubba Ho-Tep vibe. Yet the problem is that it goes about this without the ominpresent quirkiness and energy Bubba Ho-Tep carried. Late Phases plays it fairly straight, which I don't think really suits the larger picture. Pacing and tone have always been issues for me when it comes to Bogliano's works in the past, but once again, he's demonstrating growth as a filmmaker. You need to look no further than the practical werewolf transformation that he executes in a single camera move that got our SXSW crowd, and this writer, excited. Further, the last act is a lot of fun as that full moon rises once again and Ambrose is faced with a larger werewolf problem than he anticipated. It's worth noting that the lycanthropes here are all man-in-suit creations that run on two legs and on all fours when they really need to haul ass. Their design is a little silly for my tastes, but they're ultimately effective once in action.
Late Phases has a lot of heart, even if it didn't have as much werewolf shenanigans as I had hoped. Also, it owes a lot to Silver Bullet – in fact, you could see this as a nice companion piece. There's something to be said about the contrast of Silver Bullet and its coming-of-age story and Late Phases which finds a man nearing the end of his life.
Still, is an admirable film worth checking out once it finds its release.