“Late Phases” is stuck in awkward mid-transformation

Late Phases movie review

Limp satire meets one of The X-Files‘ goofier monsters of the week when Nick Damici’s blind Vietnam vet moves into a gated retirement community that harbors a dark secret in Adrian Garcia Bogliano’s Late Phases. Something of a throwback to the werewolf movies of the 1980’s, it pairs sitcom sass and man-in-a-suit creature effects to campy, inconsistent success, getting itself stuck in a transformation stage that’s neither man nor wolf.

Damici’s sharp-tongued Ambrose gets acquainted with his new home immediately upon arrival. By day he gets dropped in on by a trio of superficial welcome committee gals teleported from Edward Scissorhands, and by night, a vicious creature that slays the old biddy next door and kills Shadow, his German Shepherd guide dog. The former encounter establishes the quirky sense of humor that accompanies Ambrose’s preparations for the next full moon, when he fully expects a werewolf to show up on his doorstep due to not only his own experience but repeated warnings about animal attacks in their neck of the woods.

Screenwriter Eric Stolze uses the next month to observe Ambrose’s individualistic resolve. He goes about his day in full view and full spite of the mannered community around him, purposefully ruffling feathers to get a better idea of his surroundings, and taking his time burying Shadow, for whom he bought an ostentatious headstone over the objections of his insipid only son (a wasted Ethan Embry). More entertaining than the peculiarities of his lonely work, however, is the friendship Ambrose strikes up with Tom Noonan’s priest, if only because Noonan’s every second onscreen offers a laconic break from the often awkwardly forced dialogue Damici has the poor luck of exchanging with everyone else.

Bogliano stages a finale that’s satisfying enough, but not before venturing a halfhearted attempt at mythologizing with a last second digression that strips the story away from Ambrose and makes little sense on its own. It’s almost as if it’s trying to burst out as a new movie entirely, and sums up Late Phases as a whole, a werewolf movie with a streak in black comedy that never feels comfortable in its own skin, and has to will itself along until the beast rears its head in the light of the moon once again. There’s little to recommend when nearly all involved have done better work elsewhere, and not been stuffed into this ratty monster suit of a movie.

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