Though it’s a blanket statement that admittedly doesn’t apply to every single movie, there tends to be a big difference between theatrically-released horror films and ones that go straight to VOD. Never have those differences been more clear than in 2014, which has been a fantastic year for the latter and an absolutely terrible one for the former.
Late Phases is yet another reason why the home is currently the best place to consume horror.
Directed by Spanish filmmaker Adrian Garcia Bogliano (Here Comes the Devil) and released onto VOD outlets (and in limited theaters) this past Friday, Late Phases centers on blind army veteran Ambrose McKinley, who moves into a retirement community at the start of the film.
On his first night there, Ambrose’s neighbor and dog are savagely attacked by a beast that he cannot see, and it soon becomes clear to him that a werewolf resides within the community. With the next full moon approaching in 30 days, Ambrose prepares himself for battle, and sets out to discover who among him harbors the beast within.
If I had to pick out one main difference between Hollywood horror and independent horror it’d have to be that indie horror tends to be more concerned with story, as the lack of a widespread theatrical release frees filmmakers to focus on what matters, rather than on what makes money. And what matters, more than anything, is story.
Like all the best horror movies that have gone straight-to-VOD this year, Late Phases is character-driven above all else, to the point that a large chunk of the film has little to do with the impending werewolf threat. Though the movie is book-ended by sizeable hunks of horror, the majority of the runtime is spent simply tracking Ambrose’s day-to-day life, as he attends church gatherings and struggles to bond with his son – and everyone else he comes into contact with.
Played by the always fantastic Nick Damici (Stake Land), Ambrose is one of the best and most memorable horror movie characters of the year, the sort of grizzled war vet that it’s hard not to love. He’s a total dick and he makes no apologies about it, but you just know deep down, within mere moments of meeting him, that there’s a lot more going on beyond the gruff exterior. Think Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, right down to the beloved dog and affinity for guns.
Though the real joy of Late Phases is simply being a fly on the wall of Ambrose’s life, make no mistake about it: this is one hell of a werewolf movie. While cinema werewolves have mostly been computer generated for the last several years, the one(s) on display in Late Phases are entirely practical, and holy shit do they look awesome.
Admittedly, the design of the wolves teeters on the brink of badass and corny, but I say that in the most loving way possible. Practical effects are always better than CGI when it comes to movie monsters, and Late Phases is home to a handful that will have fans of 80s horror movies howling with sheer delight.
And yes, there’s a transformation scene. And yes, it is one of the best in many years. I’d kiss your feet if your feet were in front of me, Robert Kurtzman.
As good of a werewolf movie as it is, perhaps the most impressive thing about Late Phases is the way it transcends that sub-genre, delivering all of the familiar elements that you’d expect but neatly wrapping them up inside of a story that’s about so much more than hairy monsters. There’s plenty of horror going on here, to be sure, but it’s the heart, humor and genuine emotion of Bogliano’s English-language debut that set it apart from the pack. This is a surprisingly human story, at the end of the day.
Not only is Late Phases one of the very best horror films that 2014 has to offer but it’s also one of the downright best werewolf movies in years. There aren’t too many recent movies from that sub-genre that have delivered the goods, and this one effectively serves as a big ole apology for all that CG-laden nonsense the last few years have brought to the table.
Bottom line: Late Phases is a senior citizen Silver Bullet. And I can’t think of any higher praise than that. Rent it. Immediately.