I’ve mentioned my love for Nick Damici here before. He’s a great throwback to the tough guy character actors of yesterday. (don’t believe me? try to picture him being mirthful. it’s impossible) So, when I heard about Late Phases, and that it starred Damici, it was a given that I’d check it out. (take note, filmmakers hoping to secure the Jason Dupuis demographic) The fact that it also featurs the reliably solid Ethan Embry, The Last Starfighter’s Lance Guest (who once waved at me while he was mowing his lawn), Larry Fessenden and Tom Noonan (not his first werewolf rodeo) is just icing on the cake. And werewolves can be cool, so… I watched it. (i buried the lead there a little bit)
Retired army guy, Ambrose McKinley (Damici), moves into a senior living community because he is blind and getting old (i guess?). He is attacked and his service dog is killed on his very first night in the place. The unseen attacker (McKinley is blind, duh) growled and grunted and stunk like a werewolf! Our unperturbable hero uses the next 28 days to physically prepare to fight the beast. During this time he strains his relationship with his son, his daughter-in-law, his priest, his ride to church, and his neighbors. He’s pretty much a huge asshole. But he’s right. And the human side of the monster has been keeping his teeth busy biting the resident seniors and, thereby, recruiting a small army for the big showdown.
Late Phases, as I already mentioned, has a lot going for it. The cast is a nostalgic dream, complete with, among others, Tina “Ginger from Gilligan’s Island” Louise and Dana “Bobby from Twin Peaks” Ashbrook. It doesn’t feel gimmicky either. Though it probably should. (on paper, it does) It’s cool to see some older actors taking prominent roles in a genre film. Guest, in particular, puts in a nervous, sweaty, self-injurious, performance that is a ton of fun to watch. The effects are great too. Some of the practical effects earn that “wizardry” title that is often hyperbolically assigned to film special effects. The centerpiece transformation scene has some clever choreography and “YEAH!”-out-loud moments of gruesome awesomeness. Unfortunately, the film never becomes the sum of its parts that it aims to be. That doesn’t mean that it’s bad. It’s not bad. (you could even say that i lyc’ed it! get it?)But even with all of the above in the “pros” column, it never quite reaches greatness. Damici’s McKinley is unlikeable. Sure, we want to see him win and we do get a glimpse of his inner demons through an answering machine (is this movie set in 1986?) message that he leaves for his son. Even that seems assholish. It’s almost abusive relationship “I was an asshole, but I did it for you” type stuff. The story itself is pretty thin – tough old man rubs everyone wrong between bouts of push-ups while preparing to fight a supernatural threat. We could probably get all of that in 45 minutes. Perhaps instead of weak red herrings and implausible mid-moon cycle attacks, we could have gotten a better view of McKinley’s personal demons. (like, what was up with that ring he was supposed to have tossed in his wife’s casket?)
The Final Cut: Late Phases is a solid indie werewolf film with some nostalgia-friendly casting and great special effects. Unfortunately, its thin story and cantankerous protagonist prevent it from reaching greatness.