On the surface of things you probably wouldn’t expect any real rumination on human aging, and the eventual death that it causes, in a werewolf picture. In the hands of writer Eric Stolze and director, Adrian Goarcia Bogliano, however, Late Phases becomes just that. Not only is it an admirable dip into a traditional creature feature, complete with glorious practical effects, it is also a deeply driven character study. Sure, the werewolf is the crux of the narrative but it might as well have been the Grim Reaper visiting each character with a bloody reminder that life is fleeting and time might just be up.
Late Phases opens with our protagonist, Ambrose (Nick Damici) shopping for a burial headstone. Just like that, death is at the forefront of every following action of the film. Quite intentionally, Bogliano lays forth that scene with a sense of literal matter-of-factness. The audience can’t help but feel the weight of it. Combine that with the film’s setting, a retirement community, and death is not only an inevitability, it is damn near a resident within the film.
With that grim fact established, the film takes it time to establish and develop the characters of the story. From Ambrose and his son, Will (Ethan Embry) all the way to Father Roger (Tom Noonan) and Griffin (Lance Guest), each character is given serious time to their backstory, their personalities, and their ultimate motivations. This allows the film to not only breathe, but to advance further thematically than one would expect from a traditional creature feature.
And let there be no mistake, Late Phases is a creature feature. Don’t let the well crafted thematic layers of death, regret, and the betrayal of your own body fool you. Late Phases also revels in the monster portion of this program. Perhaps most satisfactorily, the creature portion of the feature relies heavily on practical effects. Admittedly these effects aren’t always impeccable or even believable, but they are real and they are on set with the actors. Something about all that latex and corn syrup makes this film endearing and, more specifically, makes the werewolf sequences a hell of a lot of fun.
The mixture of that fun with the weightiness of the thematic stuff makes Late Phases a strange ride. The audience is continually shifted from sadness to giggles and then back again. While this may have caused an uneven film in another director’s hands, Bogliano is a master at balancing this. Consider his film “Penumbra”, a stylistic film that can only really be described as the lovechild of Almodovar and Argento with Hitchcock as a proud godfather. Bogliano has shown a real talent for blending styles and themes within his work, and Late Phases is perhaps his most powerful example of that skill to date.
So yes, this film is a B-level creature feature, amazingly tactile practical effects in hand, but it is also an amazingly well crafted piece of story that tackles some pretty weighty material in a very sincere and real way. Think of it this way, would you rather see a high budget paint-by-number horror film complete with a computer generated villain who is well within that uncanny valley, or would you rather see a guy in a hair suit with corn syrup spurting from carefully positioned blood packets that just happens to be in a film that tells a damn fine story? I know which one I would pick.