*. Low expectations can be a wonderful thing. I came to this movie anticipating nothing. It didn’t have a wide release, wasn’t a sleeper hit at the box office, and received mostly middling reviews (on balance, somewhat negative). I think you’d have to be a real horror aficionado to have even heard of it. So, with all of that, I was pleasantly surprised.
*. In fact, I really liked Late Phases. Mostly for two reasons: (1) the lead performance by Nick Damici as the irascible blind Vietnam vet, and (2) the intelligent script.
*. We know we’re in trouble right away as we enter the gated retirement community of Crescent Bay. In the first place, it’s not a place you go to live but, as Ambrose puts it, you go to die. That’s foreshadowing. We may wonder if the gate is there to keep people out so much as to keep them in. Then the welcoming committee shows up at Ambrose’s house and all we can think of is a troop of Stepford wives. This is obviously all a façade.
*. I’ve seen Late Phases compared to Bubba Ho-Tep (which has the residents of a nursing home fighting a mummy), but it doesn’t adopt that movie’s comic tone. Instead it grounds its fantastic tale in realism. Children who feel guilty about abandoning their parents, and who suspect their parents’ fears may be the result of dementia. A church congregation full of nothing but (judgmental) seniors. Ambrose’s bonding with his service dog. We recognize and sympathize with all of this.
*. With regard to the religious angle, I guess we have to chalk this movie up as being yet another example of the complete inability of faith to provide any kind of defence or support in the fight against supernatural forms of evil. I’ve mentioned this before in my notes on movies like Paranormal Activity and The Witch, and it’s made very clear here as the werewolf explains that all that “Sunday school garbage” of confession and the rosary, necklace and prayers, is no use at all in fighting lycanthropy. When he complains that “All I want to do is live and worship and kill in solitude and die in peace,” he might be staking out a new confession.
*. You certainly can’t call it an idiot plot. Ambrose knows exactly what’s going on as soon as he hears that his neighbour was killed on the night of a full moon. That sinks it. Werewolves. No doubt in his mind. Time to start ordering some silver bullets.
*. The werewolf is pretty sharp too. The plan to go around recruiting reinforcements seemed like a good one to me. He was certainly thinking ahead.
*. The werewolf costumes probably received the most negative reaction from critics, and here I have to agree. They look terrible. They sort of reminded me of the evil bunny in Donnie Darko, and that is not a movie I like being reminded of.
*. The big transformation scene, however, isn’t bad. It’s not all CGI and has the villain sort of pulling apart his human skin to release his inner wolf, which I thought fairly original and thematically apt.
*. The direction by Adrián García Bogliano strikes me as kind of flat, but I don’t how much of that might be attributed to wanting a low-key approach fitting the twilight world of Crescent Bay, or to the fact that this was Bogliano’s first English-language feature. I certainly thought it could have been creepier, especially given the blind hero.
*. Still, I thought it was an original concept, with some good acting on display and an interesting werewolf. The last reel isn’t great, and it ends on a schmaltzy note, but in the bottomless heap of noisy dreck out there I thought this was a small but enjoyable moment of creativity and quiet.