I've learned, over the years, that walking into a movie with too many expectations leads to my displeasure. In the case of Late Phases, I had read a couple of good reviews and was only hoping I wouldn't hate it too much - and I'll tell you what, I was quite pleased with the movie overall.
The short version of the story reads like this:
Getting old sucks. The slightly longer version of the story reads more like: a blind, aging veteran (Nick Damici of Stake Land) is sent to live in a remote, assisted living community by his son (Ethan Embry - who I always think of as just a shitty comedic actor from the 90's). It'll come as no surprise to any horror fan that this "out of the way" village is plagued by "something terrible" and the Norman Rockwell exterior is shattered pretty quickly by a series of gruesome "animal attacks."
I think Eric Stolze took some risks with this story - from making our main character a blind, cranky old man, down to a werewolf clearly wearing a floppy suit - there is so much within Late Phases that could turn into a big, jokey mess if not handled skillfully. The possibility for trampling that fine, fine line between satire and just bad filmmaking is HUGE. In the end, I think the elements were navigated well enough to bring around an end result that feels somewhat flippant and satirical AND well-made. The acting really helps tip this one from "possible train wreck" over to "nice made indie flick."
Late Phases was really interesting to me on a couple of levels. The first thing that really struck me was the commentary on age because there have been so many recent horror movies that portray "aging" as "absolutely terrifying" (The Taking of Deborah Logan, etc.) and "disgusting." Late Phases, on the other hand, shows us a man aging gracefully - he's strong, he's loyal, he's got integrity, and he is willing to risk his life to save his neighbors - even if they are kind of shitty. He's also very lonely because getting old does mean losing the people you care about. I'd call this, "sad but real."
I also found it fairly bold that they basically lead with the werewolf right out of the gate instead of building up to the big reveal. The typical approach to a monster movie is to hint at the creature but not show the entire thing until just before the end of the movie, thus teasing the audience into sticking around and then giving them enough time to enjoy the beast before it is (either) destroyed or sneaks away (until next time...). I think that actually moves Late Phases out of the "monster movie" category - in some respects - and changes the focus of the movie. Seeing the monster right off makes it just another character in the movie - not "the most important character." What I like about this approach is that is actually makes Nick Damici the focus of the movie (as he should be.) and makes the story about his personal journey which I think helps keep Late Phases from veering off into "low-budget bullshit world."
I also have to say - and I think my regular readers won't be surprised by this one either - that any time you chuck Tom Noonan into a movie, I'm sold. There's something so gloriously "off" about him.
Some other checks in the plus column for me:
- Despite my previous jab, the practical effects are quite good
- The gore factor is pretty high
- The ending isn't explicitly happy
You can read some other Late Phases reviews here:
You can watch the Late Phases trailer here: