Adrián García Bogliano’s Late Phases, which pits a blind war vet, Ambrose (Nick Damici), against a werewolf ripping apart residents of the Crescent Bay retirement community, ends with a joke of sorts. After many werewolves and geriatrics have fallen, Will (Ethan Embry), Ambrose’s middle-management-type son, aims a rifle at the moon and pulls the trigger. In other words, he literally attempts to shoot the moon, which no one would likely accuse Bogliano of doing, either here or with his uneven but promising Here Comes the Devil. Working from a script that sticks largely to obvious, blunt exchanges of dialogue, Bogliano ends up merely toying with the death-steeped concerns of his characters, and taking the furious and bitter perspective that powers his narrative’s ponderous dramatic core for granted.
In a sense, the moon also serves as a symbol of the inevitability of nature, while also being a key element of lycanthropic lore. Ambrose is himself looking at a certain inescapable fate, being pushed into the retirement community to live out the rest of his days, which are filled with little more than condescending remarks from Will and his wife. Things get a lot more interesting when Ambrose’s neighbor and Shadow, his seeing-eye dog, are slaughtered by a werewolf, setting off Ambrose’s investigation into who’s behind the beast. The film’s near-constant contemplation of death goes beyond the murders, however, and the filmmakers prove to be both blunt and respectful about the distasteful, boring bureaucracy, and societal indifference, that many elderly people find themselves shackled to in their twilight years, usually at their family’s insistence.
To the script’s credit, there’s a darkly comical tone to the premise, as the local police department shrugs off the monthly deaths at Crescent Bay as common animal attacks due to citizens not locking their doors. The script also, unfortunately, calls for Ambrose to train and arm his home before the next full moon, a pointless, familiar sequence of preparation and one that hardly pays off during Ambrose’s climactic fight with the werewolf. The film is too often obliged to reiterate Ambrose’s toughness and self-loathing, elements of his personality that are constantly inferred, but never expressed through anything besides the character’s general rudeness. This dull repetition would be easier to ignore if the filmmakers weren’t prone to only passingly engaging with more fascinating elements of the story, such as the prickly class resentment that grows between Ambrose and his very-white neighbors.
For the most part, however, Late Phases works this bloody, no-frills setup for cheap, effective, but scarcely resonant thrills, thanks largely to Bogliano’s minimalist visual style. Like The Pact, the film utilizes a visual accentuation of the emptiness, and often the cheapness, of modern suburban living, which helps the filmmakers tap into the loneliness that Ambrose has allowed to harden into a sort of cynicism. When talking with a local priest (Tom Noonan), the vet recants a history of violence and regret during the war and after, but Bogliano never taps into that hurt visually, relying almost entirely on Damici’s pickled delivery to carry it across.
That only takes his film so far, and the director’s ability to turn the ordinary into the eerie grows dull by the end, highlighting what amounts to little more than a sturdy genre workout. To his credit, Damici carries a large part of this with his brisk and direct delivery, which shines even as his character is increasingly written as a marginalized crank. A running joke in the film is that, like the werewolves, Ambrose has a heightened sense of smell as a result of his blindness, and a more substantial movie might have made a tangible link between the abandonment of the elderly and fear of death. It’s ultimately less that Late Phases never shows any ambition, and more that these ambitions grow dormant when Bogliano becomes preoccupied with dependable clichés, keeping the movie’s more bestial ideas at bay.