Last week I wrote about a zombie movie that revitalized that tired genre. This week I was surprised by a werewolf movie that did the same.
Films that fall into a particular genre tend to repeat elements that audiences have come to associate with that kind of story. Sometimes filmmakers incorporate plot points and those kinds of characters because they believe audiences expect them. Sometimes – perhaps more often – writer and directors use these clichés because it is easy.
Some of the best moments I’ve had as a movie fan has been experiencing films that toss these tired items aside and challenge themselves as storytellers to present something new.
In “Late Phases,” Nick Damci played Ambrose McKinley, a decorated Army vet who served in Vietnam. His son Will (Ethan Embry) is bringing him to a new home, a retirement community.
Ambrose is blind and acts as if his seeing-eye dog is his only friend. Despite his son’s best efforts to help him, Ambrose is an angry, disillusioned man.
The first night he is in his new town house, something kills both his next-door neighbor and his seeing-eye dog who tries to protect him. From the strength, claws and growls, Ambrose knows wasn’t a person nor an animal. He learns there have been other “animal attacks” at the complex which local police view as “acts of God.”
Ambrose concludes he has a month before the next full moon and the next time the killer will strike. He forms a plan to set a trap.
In the hand of Damci and director Adrian Garcia Bogliano, Ambrose’s conclusion and goal seem completely logical. This is a film that is driven by the difficult character of Ambrose, a very flawed guy who understands that what he can still do is be a soldier with an objective.
Most werewolf films have two major focuses. The first is the agony of the werewolf. Ever since Lon Chaney Jr. first donned the makeup for “The Wolfman” in 1940, the central character is tortured by his fate. The second is treating the identity of the monster as a mystery that the hero and the audience must solve. “The Beast Must Die” is a werewolf movie that actually stopped a few moments from the end to allow the audience to make its guesses before the climatic reveal.
While both of these plot devices are evident in “Late Phases,” they are not the central features of the story allowing the film to transcend stereotype.
The decision to use “real” makeup and effects – as opposed to using computer-generated imagery – is another plus. The effects are quite successful and would have even been more impressive if the budget had been higher.
Damci’s defiant and angry war vet is the heart of this movie. His performance is riveting and ultimately moving. With this role Damci is becoming an indie horror leading man. He starred in “Mulberry Street” and in “Stakeland,” two solid genre entries.
I’ve seen one of Bogliano’s previous films and he is definitely a director to watch.
If you’re a horror fan, this film is a must.