One of the questions film critics get asked with surprising regularity is: “Why aren’t there more good werewolf movies?” Because sure, we all love The Wolf Man, An American Werewolf in London, The Howling, Ginger Snaps and Dog Soldiers, and the coolest among us also dig The Company of Wolves, but actually, that’s about it. That’s all there is for truly great werewolf movies, and even one or two of those are somewhat debatable.
The most important reason why there aren’t more good werewolf movies is that compared to vampires and ghosts and even Frankenstein monsters, werewolves are actually very tricky to put on screen. They require complex makeup effects that cannot often be afforded on a modest budget, which is all most horror movies can afford, even from major studios. You can get away with a cheap looking vampire. You can get away with not even showing a ghost. You can even get away with just a handful of stitches for a Frankenstein monster. But a lousy werewolf costume can take the audience right out of the movie, so filmmakers usually don’t bother.
This time, however, you’ll be glad they did. Late Phases, now streaming, is an impressive werewolf movie despite its failure to provide an impressive werewolf. In a theater this costume’s inarticulate facial features wouldn’t hold up, but on home video – where the standards are a little bit lower – audiences should be able to look past that rather easily, and focus instead on the far more interesting and human story of Late Phases‘ hero: a proud blind septuagenarian who has just one month to prepare his final stand against the supernatural.
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Nick Damici (who also wrote the excellent horror remake We Are What We Are) plays Ambrose, who has just moved into a retirement village on the edge of the woods. He’s a prickly sort who doesn’t suffer either fools or charity, even from his own son Will (Ethan Embry). But he puts up an impressive fight when a freaking werewolf attacks the community on his first night alone in the new house, fending off the beast and putting his beloved dog out of its misery after the lycanthrope slashes it.
Ambrose pieces together fairly quickly that a werewolf attacked him, but he keeps his theories to himself. He’s a smart customer, that Ambrose, and despite his disability he begins to rig his house and investigate the suspicious members of the community as the calendar ticks down to the next full moon. A great supporting cast plays the Late Phases suspects, including Tom Noonan (Manhunter) as the smelly priest, Lance Guest (The Last Starfighter) as his passionate acolyte, and Karen Lynn Gorney (Saturday Night Fever) as Ambrose’s only likable neighbor.
But it’s Amici who grounds the film, setting a firm foundation of drama and dry humor for director Adrián García Bogliano (Here Comes the Devil) to build on. Ambrose is stubborn but humorous, losing his cane early on and happily settling for a shovel instead. He’s been battle scarred before, and it’s alienated him from his loved ones, but his speech towards the end of Late Phases is as potent an apology for a life half lived as any you’re likely to find in a serious Oscar contender.
What’s more, Bogliano has a masterful sense of pacing that makes Late Phases feel both driven and methodical. Eric Stolze’s screenplay helps, keeping half of Ambrose’s plans in focus and half of them playfully vague, so that we can follow along in the middle but also be genuinely surprised by the werewolf siege finale. It’s a climax that offers violence, suspense and genuine heartbreak as the werewolf finally reveals their identity and we get a frightening sense of the suffering he or she has been living with on the sidelines of Ambrose’s story.
And yet you still have to look at that damned werewolf, which looks like half of the bunny from Donnie Darko and half of an old Power Rangers villain. Bogliano does his best with the beast, with a cleverly filmed transformation sequence and several exciting action moments, but if Late Phases has just one failing – and it does – it’s that the monster probably should have been kept in shadow the whole time, as opposed to having a bright light shined it in its face, regularly revealing the inadequacies of the film’s otherwise reasonable (if modest) budget.
Is Late Phases one of the great werewolf movies? Maybe not, but it’s a very good one. The intriguing set-up and strong cast of characters absolutely compensate for the forgivable deficiency of its monster costume. If you’re a fan of the genre, rest assured that it’s the best of its ilk in a very long time. Late Phases is a fierce horror thriller that deserves an immediate click from streaming audiences everywhere.
LATE PHASES is now available on Netflix and for a small rental fee at Amazon Instant. Availability is subject to change, so watch it while you can, and come back next week for a new underrated movie recommendation from CraveOnline’s Now Streaming!