Blind war veteran Ambrose McKinley (Nick Damici, Stake Land, We Are What We Are)has recently moved to Crescent Bay, a seemingly peaceful community on the outskirts of a dense forest. On his first night in his new home, McKinley hears his elderly neighbor attacked by something he's convinced isn't human.
When the creature then kills his seeing eye dog, McKinley's thirst for justice turns into a one-man vendetta against the monster that's terrorizing his neighborhood. And when he's stonewalled by both the police and his fellow residents, he decides to gear up and prepare to fight the beast one-on-one. Now it's man vs. myth as the take-no-prisoners McKinley readies himself for what could be his final battle.
“People don’t come to places like this to live, they come here to die.”
Horror films are a tough genre to do right, whether you’ve got vampires traveling oceans of time, zombies taking over the earth, or have a werewolf that terrorizes an isolated retirement community. Thankfully for horror fans, ‘Late Phases’ goes a long way towards getting so much right that it makes you forget any small grievances. For an independent horror movie, this is a breath of fresh air in a stifled genre.
Ambrose, a fantastic Nick Damici, is a surly blind Viet Nam veteran who is being taken to his new home by his exasperated son Will, played by Ethan Embry. Will can’t seem to drop off his father fast enough and Ambrose seemingly can’t get rid of his son soon enough. Ambrose is a man who in his mind is getting dropped off to die - little does he know that’s more accurate than he’s aware. Ambrose’s first night in his new duplex home is disrupted by the brutal murder of his next door neighbor and the vicious attack on his service dog.
Still a soldier at heart, Ambrose is a man of action, only at first he doesn’t know where to direct his attention. After the death of his dog, he learns that these attacks are fairly common, in fact they happen every month on the full moon. Without the ability to see the world, all he can do is rely on his hearing and his acute sense of smell. The creature that attacked his neighbor and killed his dog, had a particular smell, one that when he finds it again he’ll have solved the mystery. Since these attacks happen with the full moon, he’s given an entire month to prepare his home, retrain his body for war, and find the killer before he, she, or it strikes again.
When the horror genre is treated with respect, it is a great day for genre fans. With ‘Late Phases,’ fans get a solid werewolf movie that is easily the best of its kind to come around in a great long while. For every ‘The Howling’ or ‘American Werewolf in London,’ there is a ‘Skin Walkers’ or ‘American Werewolf in Paris’ to push the subgenera back a step or two. In this case, ‘Late Phases’ does the best thing you can do with any horror film and that is to take its time. If helps to know a character before bad things start happening. ‘Late Phases’ also goes the opposite direction of many horror films in that it shows it’s monster very quickly albeit in fleeting quick glimpses. It’s there. We know it’s werewolves, our main character has figured it out, there’s just no need for us to be blind of this fact… so to speak. But because we know the stakes, it adds to the growing tension as the days tick by to the next full moon.
Lending itself to this film is a wonderfully assembled cast, in particular lead Nick Damici. He brings an almost Clint Eastwood meets Charles Bronson level to his performance. Ethan Embry is also a welcome sight, especially in this role as the removed son. Their father son relationship could have easily slipped into cliche to be a joke, but it never goes over the top and remains believable. Then you have two more great additions to the cast in the form of Tom Noonan as the empathetic Father Rodger and Lance Guest as Griffin - both play their parts as men who know more than what they’re letting on, but never tip their hats, nicely prolonging the mystery element to this film. For genre fans, Tina Louise of ’The Stepford Wives,’ Rutanya Alda of ‘When a Stranger Calls,’ Caitlin O’Heaney of ‘Wolfen,’ Larry Fessenden, ‘Session 9,’ Dana Ashbrook, ‘Twin Peaks,’ and Karen Lynn Gorney of ’Saturday Night Fever’ are all given fun little roles that work beyond simple cameos and actually forward the plot in their own way.
On top of the performances viewers can expect some outstanding creature and makeup effects. Little if any digital effects were used, and while the appearance of the monsters can skew a tad goofy in places, the transformation scene is a wonderful ode to practical effects and is a refreshing sight to see. Lots of gore to be appreciated in the final act to say the least! Then you have the assured direction of Adrián García Bogliano and the talented storytelling sense by Eric Stolze. As I said before, horror is a genre that is very easy to do wrong, but these guys killed it, bringing a movie that while a tad predictable is still a fun and thrilling ride. As a score hound, I was easily lost in composer Wojciech Golczewski’s (Munger Road) music - and I’m more than a tad irritated that it hasn’t been released on digital or disc - and unless something changes, it probably never will be.
Is this a perfect horror film? No, not perfect, but still really, really good. There are some little plot contrivances, like Ambrose seemingly being the first person to put the evidence together about what is terrorizing his retirement community, but if you focus on the little things like that, you’re going to miss the greater and more important whole that this was a good movie. I am a horror movie nut, so discovering this one, not knowing really anything about it other than that it existed is a real treat. Easily recommended.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
‘Late Phases arrives on Blu-ray in a Region A locked BD25 disc. Housed in a standard Blu-ray case, the disc opens with three trailers for upcoming Dark Sky Films releases that last all of 6 minutes if you’re not intent on skipping over them. The main menu is a static image with some of the film’s score playing throughout.
‘Late Phases’ arrives on Blu-ray with a very pleasing 2.39:1 HD presentation. Much of this film takes place either in waining daylight or in the dead of night, as such, colors tend to hue towards golden browns leading towards some muted colors, but in this case it works as great atmosphere for the film. Detail is in fine shape here as blades of grass on lawns, stitching in clothing, and yes, even fur comes through with terrific clarity. For a movie that takes place at night, black levels and shadows are solid and even giving some real three dimensional depth to some scenes.
If there is a problem to be had with this film is in some of the night shots - they’re a tad too dark in some places to be able to appreciate what’s happening on screen. It isn’t a deal breaker by any stretch since most of the darker scenes look fine. Taken as a whole, this is a pretty fantastic HD presentation.
‘Late Phases’ arrives with a DTS-HD MA 5.1 and a PCM 2.0 Lossless audio tracks. If I have to pick one, I would chose the DTS-HD track as it has a little bit more power and range. The PCM 2.0 is pretty great in of itself, but it feels like you lose some of the ambient noise, and much of Wojciech Golczewski’s score is lost, and if you’re as much of a score hound as I am - you don’t want that! With that Imaging for both tracks are pretty strong. Sound effects feel alive within the movie and move about the channels in a natural way.
Voices and dialogue come through in fantastic clarity hovering for the most part around the midranges. Towards the end of the film, there is a specific scene - I won’t say what happens since it’s more or less the big twist - where dialogue gets lost in the mix. This isn’t so important considering what’s happening on screen, but it is a bit irritating. Still, ‘Late Phases’ offers two strong audio tracks for you to chose from.
Audio Commentary: Director Adrián García Bogliano delivers a fantastic audio commentary that movies along with the movie scene by scene. It’s especially interesting to learn how much lead Nick Damici brought to the role and the production as a whole. There is a lot to listen to, learn, and appreciate in this commentary.
Making Of: (HD 14:32) An interesting little piece of production material, fills in a lot of info about the production and it’s also fun seeing the creature actors in costume.
FX Featurette: (HD 30:09) This is a welcome, indepth look at the making and assembly of the creature effects. It’s such an intricate process that it’s a nice to see the artists involved get to show off their skills.
Original Trailer: (HD 2:02) A pretty solid trailer that works well for not giving away too much of the goings on within the film.
I probably see somewhere in the range of a hundred movies I’ve never seen before in a single year. In actuality it’s probably double that but I lose count quickly. While most of what I see is pretty good, a lot of it is forgettable. It’s great to come across an independent horror movie that is actually really good, one that I’ll gladly watch again and is worth recommending to fans of the genre. When you get a horror movie with a rock solid cast and great writing and direction, it’s hard not to get a little excited about a movie like ‘Late Phases.’ With a strong HD presentation and DTS-HD and PCM Lossless tracks along with a collection of informative extras - this Blu-ray for ‘Late Phases’ isn’t hard to recommend.