Who would bring a blind man to a werewolf fight? Well apparently director Adrián García Bogliano would as his film Late Phases pits a blind Vietnam veteran against a group of nasty lycanthropes, and surprisingly at times is does seem to be a fair fight. I’m always happy when I come across a werewolf film I’ve not seen and though this film isn’t in the same league as The Howling or An American Werewolf in London it still has something to offer fans of the genre and I’d rank it somewhere between Dog Soldiers and Bad Moon.
The movie opens with son Will (Ethan Embry) bringing his father Ambrose McKinley (Nick Damici) to his new home at the retirement community of Crescent Bay, and it’s clear off the hop that the son and his blind Vietnam veteran father don’t get along, but of course family dynamics is not really what this film is about so we will chalk their moments together as necessary character development and we will all check our watch as we wait for the first werewolf attack. We don’t have to wait too long as during his first night at Crescent Bay his neighbor is savagely killed by a werewolf and he only survives because his Seeing Eye dog put up a good fight that gave Ambrose time to find his gun. This brings us to our first question, “What kind of werewolf are we dealing with?” Does it have human intelligence like the ones in The Howling or while in werewolf form is it just mindless beast as in An American Werewolf in London?
Ambrose learns that once a month a resident of Crescent Bay is brutally killed by a “wild animal” and adding to the fact that the attack he survived was during a full moon he immediately jumps to the conclusion that he is dealing with a werewolf. Why exactly would someone make that assumption so fast is unclear, unless you are aware that you are in a horror film or if the world the film is building includes werewolves as being a known quantity to the public, if not that is a pretty big leap to make. It would have been neat if we’d got some backstory with him where he encountered a werewolf over in Vietnam, something he’s never told anyone before, but sadly this film has me believing that Ambrose found a braille copy of the script lying around. Which brings us to another big question, “If people are dying every month in this little community why is anybody still living there?”
We meet a couple of cops who basically chalk up the deaths to natural selection, citing that old people can’t fend for themselves when animal attacks so this kind of thing is bound to happen, and they are apparently have no plans on stopping any attacks in the future. If old people were being torn apart on a regular basis you better believe the media would be going ape shit and that there would be an immense amount of pressure on the authorities to catch the creature, whatever it is. Instead Dudley Do-Right and Barney Fife give Ambrose a hard time for not burying his dog fast enough and annoying the neighbors.
When I’m watching a horror movie I’m ready to buy into almost anything from the undead rising or creatures from myths and legends hunting under the full moon light but it’s important that all the other character are somewhat grounded in some semblance of reality and this film’s attitude of “Shit happens” when people in a small community are being killed on a regular basis broke my credulity meter.
The bulk of the film is then spent on Ambrose trying to figure out which person in Crescent Bay is a werewolf and as he noticed the werewolf’s rasping breathing his suspect list contains; chain smoking Father Roger Smith (Tom Noonan), an old dude in an iron long, and asthma suffer James Griffin (Lance Guest) who also seems a little bit off. The mystery element isn’t really this film’s strong suit, I quickly ruled out the priest as that would have been ripping off the Stephen King werewolf movie Silver Bullet, and an old guy in an iron lung seemed to be a strange bet for a monster in hiding. So when Ambrose finally discovers who is the actual werewolf we the audience are at the point where we think only a blind man couldn’t have figure it out by this time…oh, right, never mind. One has to admit that having a film’s premise be about a blind Vietnam veteran versus a werewolf is fairly interesting, and the actor does a great job showing how the war changed him, but I never quite bought him as a credible threat to a werewolf.
The film establishes that Ambrose has a good sense of smell and good hearing but against a supernatural monster that would give Daredevil a hard time this just doesn’t pass muster. Sure we get a scenes where he gets supplied with silver bullets and sets up booby-traps but it still seems to be a bit of a stretch. All that said the final showdown is pretty good, where poor blind Ambrose finds himself not only facing the main werewolf but four more others because the bastard monster went running from house to house biting the neighbors. That whole sequence was so bizarre and original that it made up for a lot of the film’s failings, and then the werewolves themselves were also quite interesting and the ever important transformations scene was well-handled and very reminiscent of The Company of Wolves with the werewolf bursting out of its human skin.
At 96 minutes in length some horror movie fans will most likely find it a little light on werewolf action, an obvious low budget being the most probably cause of this, but when the shit hits the fan and Ambrose must stand alone against a quartet of monsters I can’t see many viewers walking away from this film at least a little entertained. The performances across the board are excellent and the design for this movie’s werewolf I found weirdly intriguing, it kind of has a demonic cat-like visage and a frumpy ape like body, and overall it worked quite well. Late Phases certainly didn’t redefine the werewolf genre but it did bring enough interesting elements to make it worth checking out and earned a spot in my collection.