Monday, May 29, 2017

Does Medicare Cover Werewolf Bites? Asking For a Friend

Of all the monsters that populate the horror genre, werewolves are easily my least favorite. Sure, history has provided the occasional good one, but 95% of the time, cinematic lycanthropes would belong better on a Party City commercial than a movie screen. Maybe it's just impossible for a human body to ever find the right mix with a canine wolf walk, but even the most tautly told thriller can be instantly killed by the presence of a poorly constructed costume. Some films succeed in spite of this (Dog Soldiers, Ginger Snaps), but so often I wonder, why bother?

Nevertheless, when enough people recommend a movie, I'll give it a go...even if includes werewolves. 

Quick Plot: Ambrose (the always extremely welcome Nick Damici) is a widowed blind Vietnam veteran moving into a quiet retirement community called Crescent Bay. After an awkward goodbye with his somewhat estranged son Will (Ethan Embry), an adorably promising flirtation with friendly neighbor Delores, and a cheerfully rude greeting to the catty welcoming committee (led by Rutanya Alda!), Ambrose settles in for what he assumes will be the first of many uneventful evenings.

It only takes one night of a full moon for Ambrose's new digs to be attacked by a mysterious canine-esque creature. With his loyal dog and Delores torn apart, Ambrose immediately suspects what every horror fan already knows: there's a werewolf in town, and in one month, he or she will undoubtedly return.

Ambrose decides, as one without much worth living for does, that he'll take the next thirty days to prepare for battle. During that time, he also begins catching the local senior van to attend church. It's there that he meets Tom Noonan's Father Roger, a priest who might have a few secrets hidden under his collar. 

Written by fairly new on the scene Eric Stolze (not the one you're thinking) and directed by the great Here Comes the Devil's Adrian Garcia Bogliano, Late Phases does the smartest thing any horror movie can possibly do: it focuses on retirees. Now in truth, Nick Damici is not by any means an old man (if the internet is to be believed and my math to be trusted, he's 58 at the time of this writing and wearing a heavy dose of prosthetics onscreen), but Late Phases gives him enough of a stiffness to let us believe he's closer to the end of his life or, perhaps more importantly, close to the point where he's ready to be done with it all. 

The film slowly drops clues about Ambrose's past, as well as why his current relationship with his son is so strained. His neighbors are similar fleshed out in ways that, plain and simple, make them far more interesting than the usual spat of pretty 20somethings who film most horror movies during their CW show hiatuses. When Delores calls her adult daughter, we watch this sad woman sigh at the excuses on the other line. When she's gutted by a werewolf moments later, the exasperated "I'll call you back Mom" closure takes on a whole new meaning.

I wish Late Phases was at good at its monster game as it is at characters, but unfortunately, it stumbles in its third act with, not surprisingly, some rough werewolf design work. On my end, I was invested enough to the point that I forgave its shortcomings because damnit, I was enjoying this movie. Sure, some of the "who's that werewolf?" mystery was probably less interesting (and mysterious) than the script intended, but I could watch Nick Damici rebuff fussy church ladies all day. Is this a good movie? I thought so. Is it a good HORROR movie? That's a different question.

High Points
Aside from the aforementioned concept of setting a werewolf film in a retirement community, let's give a nice nod to the humor of Late Phases. This isn't a horror comedy in the least, but Stolze's script, Bogliano's tone, and of course, Damici's performance manage to find some genuinely funny moments that never feel forced

Low Points
But some of those werewolf suit seams are laughable in a different way

Lessons Learned
When you're blind, it always looks like you're paying attention

Selling headstones with a senior citizen discount isn't great for business longevity

Mean girls never change, they just get older

Late Phases has its share of problems, but I found this to be a joy of a movie. Damici is such a wonderful presence onscreen, and it's a huge bonus that the film understands how an imperfect, grumpy AARP member can make for a compelling protagonist. It's the kind of choice I'd like to see more movies make...especially those that don't involve poorly constructed werewolves.

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