Thursday, October 29, 2015

Late Phases

  I'm well aware I've been slacking off with my nightly horror reviews, but this should be the first of a couple I cram in today. If they're all as good as Late Phases, I'm in for a real whole-day-long treat. I'm not overly fond of werewolf movies. I love the concept, but haven't found too many that have struck any real chords with me. Many refer to An American Werewolf in London as a great werewolf movie. It's humor and lack of an actual werewolf for the majority of the movie threw me off, and I ended up disappointed. This movie though... damn. It's as stylish and cool as it is bloody and intense. The movie revolves around a blind and aging Vietnam vet named Ambrose, who recently moved into a small retirement village... town... thing, only to find that it's been plagued by a monster.

   Animal attacks my ass. The typical ignorance song and dance in movies like this is nothing if not perfunctory here and gotten out of the way rather quickly. This is due in no small part to the independent and no-nonsense demeanor of the protagonist. He often comes off as brusque or angry, and maybe he is, but the usual "Nobody believes me that a _______ is killing people!" thing is completely done away with as a result. Ambrose doesn't need anyone to believe him, thus we skip that tedium, and cut straight to him doing what he believes he needs to do to prepare for his next encounter with the werewolf.  He trains his body, learns his surroundings, and prepares for battle.

   With it's premise easily boiled down to 'old people vs werewolf' this movie could've been parody, or even just horror-comedy, but it's not. Not at all. Ambrose is a fascinating main character who ends up defying genre conventions just by being who he is. He is what is most unique about this movie, because he's not a teenage girl, or a 20-something jock. He's an old guy in the last act of his life. Most of the time he's had to live is behind him. The movie faces these facts head on. Never is Ambrose willing to take shit for being old, let anyone crack wise about his age, or be treated like a cripple. You'd think that sort of standoffish attitude would make him unpleasant to spend 90 minutes with. On the contrary, he can be a real interesting and deep feeling character. If anything, we can relate to him immediately.

   He's the kind of protagonist who doesn't do dumb crap, doesn't make naive mistakes. He knew almost right away what he was dealing with. He didn't feel the need to go around and try to convince people of it, he just hunkered down and prepared. But, as much as this is a werewolf movie, it's also a character drama. Ambrose has some stuff buried in his past, issues he's left unresolved, which is driving a rift between him and his son. The movie's plots mirror each other in a neat way and the ending neatly manages to bring closure to both main storylines. Genre fans in search of some blood and guts shouldn't fret watching a drama about an old guy with issues, because the movie turns into a bloodbath on two very specific occasions. Ambrose's first encounter with the werewolf, and the fantastic last act with it's perfectly thrilling climax.

   The movie's effects are totally practical. Good ol' fashioned flesh and blood, so to speak. Everything seems to be done on screen, not digitally. Some of this stuff recalls classic Rick Baker, Tom Savini, and Rob Bottin. All the effects are crafted with care, and shown to us when necessary. Lots of modern movies that use practical effects, tend to show off and put it right in our faces- repeatedly. Late Phases isn't concerned with showing off, it has an honest, matter-of-fact attitude, not unlike Ambrose himself. Nevertheless, the gore effects are fantastic and a real scene stealer. This, especially in an age of exceptionally fake looking CGI blood and guts. It's also not just the gore that's great, Late Phases builds to a kickass showdown with some great action scenes in it. You wouldn't think so from the majority of the movie, but the payoff is wonderfully violent and intense.

   Some people might label this movie 'slow burn', and while I get it, I respectfully disagree. No, there isn't a werewolf on screen every five minutes. It's more of a thriller than a monster movie. Ambrose has to wait until the next full moon before he can face off against the werewolf again, so he spends his days preparing and investigating. He goes to church on Sundays, trying to ferret out who might be the werewolf. Thus he ends up meeting a lot of new people. This is all interesting and engaging material. Of course it really helps that he's such a fun character to watch. People react strongly to his peculiar ways, but just ask him if he gives a shit.

   This is why I call the movie cool, because it approaches the material with a fresh look and a lot of energy. Not to mention it's fantastic score that pulses and thrives, giving the movie a heartbeat just as it heightens the atmosphere and the intensity. I really love the sounds of this movie, which are just as- if not more important than the visuals, which are also great. I'm not thrilled with the designs of the werewolves themselves, but everyone's opinion on that kind of thing varies like crazy. I can readily overlook that minor gripe because Late Phases does literally everything else right. More than right, it does it with exceptional attention to detail and manages to be a really fun and unique flick. I can't recommend it enough. Good bloody fun that also ends up being truly heartfelt and emotional.

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