I got into werewolf movies when they were going through a brief resurgence that didn’t really go anywhere. This is pretty much par for the course with werewolves. Lacking an iconic literary source like vampires have with Dracula and the reanimated have with Frankenstein, werewolves instead have a mishmash of origins going all the way back to The Odyssey and even then they’re frequently playing second fiddle to hordes of other mythological beasties. I was born five years after their modern day peak in 1981, and though I have fond memories of watching An American Werewolf in London with my mom, it was the abortive second post-modern revival that gave me my lycanthropic soft spot. Namely, the film Ginger Snaps, which had the unbeatable premise of lycanthropy as a puberty allegory. I still don’t understand why Ginger Snaps didn’t catch on (though it spawned a number of pointless sequels and an American bastard in the form of another film I unabashedly love despite its many flaws, Cursed). But it’s a lot easier to see why Ginger Snaps’ bizarro alternate Late Phases certainly won’t be sparking a werewolf revival this decade.
Where Ginger Snaps is a darkly comedic body horror film that uses werewolves as a sly commentary on the mess that is puberty, Adrián García Bogliano’s Late Phases is the opposite, dropping its werewolf story in the setting of a sleepy retirement community that has recently been plagued with “animal attacks,” which the police believe is due to its suspicious proximity to some mostly unseen woods. Taking the place of two teen girls attempting to understand what horrors are being perpetrated on them internally is Nick Damici as Ambrose, a blind war veteran who is responding to his isolation from his family by driving everyone around him away. There are of course a lot of horrific changes a body goes through with the advance of age, and had Bogliano chosen to focus on that element (who wouldn’t want to see some geriatric werewolves dealing with dentures?) Late Phases would undoubtedly be a more interesting film, but one of its chief issues is that the setting is ultimately irrelevant to the story Bogliano and company are telling.
At its start, Late Phases seems willing to take its time to introduce its world and allow Ambrose to grow on us. But this opening murder sets the film down an odd path of start-stop moments, the pace escalating for a few scenes before inexplicably slowing to a crawl for a long stretch before returning to a breakneck pace once more. The gist is that Ambrose’s neighbor and dog are dead, and after some clunky detective work that involves Ambrose’s blindness-aided sense of smell and a clearly depressed Ethan Embry explaining how lunar cycles work, Ambrose is certain a werewolf is the cause. After enlisting the help of a mailman who appears to be the only non-Ambrose relative that is unaware that this retirement community gets hit with these attacks once a month, Ambrose becomes convinced that the werewolf is the husband of one of the nice old ladies he terrorized. The problem is, said husband is strapped into an iron lung that he never leaves, but hey, that’s what covers are for, right?
It should probably be made clear at this point that Ambrose is an absolute dick to everybody that crosses his path. When Nice Old Lady Whose Husband Seems to Be a Werewolf in an Iron Lung catches Ambrose trespassing on her property, she doesn’t pull a gun on him or threaten him, she invites him inside for drinks, lets him look around her house and insult her, and only kicks him out when he tries to unplug her husband’s Iron Lung. When the police show up to question Ambrose, he immediately reminds them they’re on private property, then they conveniently remind him they’re there to talk to him about his own trespassing. For fuck’s sake, Ambrose even says hello to them by saying something along the lines of “Hello officers. I knew it was you because I could smell donuts.”
All this is to say that unsurprisingly, Ambrose gets himself ostracized from his community more or less immediately. The slightly less agitated of the two police officers urges Ambrose to consider going to the local church to at least get to know his neighbors, which Ambrose does, but only so he can continue his “investigation.” Before long, Ambrose’s only confidant is Father Roger, the priest at the local church, who also soon becomes another suspect due to his tendency to go on monologues about the “dark past” he had before finding religion and the fact that he is inexplicably played by the great character actor Tom Noonan, best known for playing towering killers in everything from Manhunter to The Last Action Hero to House of the Devil.
But it’s hard to care about who is actually the werewolf in Late Phases because the film itself seems to give zero fucks about its own central mystery, other than to utilize it as a means to an end. The reveal of the true werewolf would be one of the film’s most pointless scenes if it didn’t also lead to its lone bit of true artistry. Rather than let Ambrose uncover the mystery and maintain some suspense, Bogliano instead allows a side character to be the audience surrogate for the reveal, mainly so he can let the camera linger on the admittedly excellent transformation scene he and his special effects team crafted. But even that transformation is kind of a waste since the fully transformed werewolf costume the film uses looks closer to something left over from Night of the Lepus than The Howling.
In fairness, Late Phases is Bogliano’s first English language film, which at least partially explains the horrible dialogue and lack of control of the actors, but that still doesn’t excuse the stock characters, unimaginative setting and costume design and the complete lack of suspense. That’s too bad, because Bogliano’s ABCs of Death entry “B is for Bigfoot” managed to outdo this feature in all of those categories in a handful of minutes. Late Phases strives to be something like a more serious Bubba Ho-Tep, but in the end it just manages to be a lukewarm B-movie that undoes all of the cheeky fun and verve early ’00s werewolf films like Ginger Snaps and Cursed brought to the genre.
Late Phases premieres tomorrow, November 21st on video on demand and in select theatres.
Morgan Davis sells bootleg queso on the streets of Austin in order to fund Loser City. When he isn’t doing that, he plays drums for Denise and gets complimented and/or threatened by Austin’s musical community for stuff he writes at Ovrld, which he is the Managing Editor of.