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Late Phases
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by Jay Seaver

"Waning but still shining."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: As soon as he or she sees Nick Damici in this movie, blind but still a gruff former soldier, about to be placed in a retirement community, even the jaded moviegoer may smile a bit. It's not the usual hero or setting for this type of film, but horror movies about old folks are often kind of great - old guys know stuff but are often shoved aside to be forgotten - and this one is no exception.

Damici plays Ambrose McKinley, a Vietnam vet who has just buried his wife and is now being moved into a seniors' community with the help of his son Will (Ethan Embry). Though he generally blows past being curmudgeonly to outright hostility, he hits it off with his neighbor Gloria (Rutanya Alda) - so when she is the victim of an "animal attack" - which he finds out are surprisingly common in this isolated, wooded area during the full moon - he sets out to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Director Adrian Garcia Bogliano and writer Eric Stolze don't play particularly coy with the audience at the start; though Ambrose may be blind, the audience can quite clearly see that his new home has a werewolf problem during that first attack. The surprising bit is how they handle things from that point forward: Rather than screw around having the hero play catch-up with what the audience already knows, they have Ambrose figure the basic problem pretty quickly, and without having secretly been a werewolf hunter or otherwise encountering the supernatural in his youth. It may be a bit of a leap for the audience, but it lets the filmmakers strip a lot of the counterproductive delay that tends to bog horror movies down despite being completely logical from this one so that they can concentrate on Ambrose doing some detective work and figuring out how he can fight a monster despite being a blind senor citizen. The audience can imagine the inevitable scene of sad younger people feeling really sorry for the old man making up crazy stories, so even though the filmmakers plant the prerequisites, they make Ambrose smart enough to avoid it.

Making protagonist blind means that it makes a lot of sense to spend the bulk of the movie planning his attack. Making him Nick Damici puts the movie in even better shape. A horror mainstay thanks in large part to his collaborations with Jim Mickle, Damici makes Ambrose McKinley kind of a jerk, but one whose stubborn self-reliance and occasional hints of having a decent heart underneath make the gruff attitude much easier to take, especially as it's delivered in such perfectly clipped, efficient fashion. The way he grumbles the sarcastic lines Stolze gives him is what makes the movie work more than anything else; it's the character's way of not being pitied or considered crazy in the wrong way, but he makes them funny enough to let the film wink at the audience, just a bit.

It's Damici's show, but he's got some impressive support. Tom Noonan complements him well as the friendly local pastor who gets along well with Ambrose despite their differences and the latter's suspicions, an of couple where the pairing isn't just done for comedy. Damici and Ethan Embry capture the strain between father and son well, and both the neighborhood and the nearby town are filled with character actor who hit their notes well.

The movie spaces its two werewolf sequences out so that they are close to the start and the and of the movie, and while lots of movies would insert a lot of extra peaks and valleys and dilute the action, this one works in large part because it skips over that and lets us get to know Ambrose, understanding why he opts to take this particular path to deal with the threat to a new community that he doesn't much like. It also lets Bogliano and his crew save their bullets, so to speak, allowing a modest budget to yield a couple of memorable sequences rather than several which just mark time. The filmmakers do a nice job of getting the story from point A to point B, smoothly moving from examining Ambrose as a man to letting the audience follow his investigation and observe his preparations, so that when the finale comes, the viewer has both a sense of anticipation and an awareness of how wrong things can go.

Those are the things that separate a good independent horror movie from the crowd. "Late Phases" probably won't wow those inclined to dismiss a werewolf movie out of hand, but those who enjoy a clever genre film will likely appreciate its unusual angle and underrated star.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=26304&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/16/14 12:32:13
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 SXSW Film Festival For more in the 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Stanley Film Festival For more in the 2014 Stanley Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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USA
  21-Nov-2014 (NR)
  DVD: 10-Mar-2015

UK
  N/A

Australia
  21-Nov-2014


Directed by
  Adrián Garcia Bogliano

Written by
  Eric Stolze

Cast
  Nick Damici
  Ethan Embry
  Erin Cummings
  Tom Noonan
  Lance Guest



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