Nick Damici has been a familiar face in the horror genre for a few years now. Primarily working with writer/director Jim Mickle, on whose films he has also co-written, this gruff, large but still oddly charming presence has impressed before but he’s not been given a true lead part until now. With Mickle uninvolved, although long-time cohort Larry Fessenden produces and pops up in a cameo role, Damici takes centre stage in Late Phases, a film with the wonderfully juicy premise of a blind ‘Nam veteran getting revenge on a werewolf after it kills his best friend.
It feels appropriate to base this review around Damici as he is the chugging motor which drives the film and the beating heart which actually makes you invest in it. A loner who uses his gruff exterior as a shield, there is a very good man inside him but he is a man who does not make friends easily, and the one friend he does make he suspects could actually be the person he’s looking for. Damici, who is also given some excellent old age make up which makes him look a good 15 – 20 years older than he is, relishes being centre stage here, growling out sarcasm while he uses the social niceties around dealing with the blind to get away with things he’d never be able to do otherwise, and while he is a large framed man, you always feel like he is a vunerable presence physically, and also emotionally.
Director Adrián García Bogliano also amps up proceedings with direction which certainly adds to the dichotomy of having a werewolf film play out in an old age people’s home. Unlike a film such as Don Coscarelli’s Bubba Ho-Tep, Late Phases plays the situation out seriously and the film often achieves an intensity which rather surprises. The initial werewolf attack is boils along nicely and keeps the tension sustained and the climax of the film has a nice line in showy but effective sequences, a panning between a transformation and an intended victim’s reaction is a real highlight, and these have a nice gruey feel which adds plenty. The werewolf design also is a bit of a treat, with Beki Ingram working with Robert Kurtzman on a design which recalls creatures of 80’s horror, a surreal combination of werewolf and human with bug eyes and big lips which sounds silly but doesn’t look so in context.
If there is a complaint to be had with the film though it’s that the human drama never matches up to the revenge story and reflective nature at its core. While Damici’s interactions with Tom Noonan’s priest character are a treat, and its lovely to see Noonan play a straight up nice guy for once, his relationship with Ethan Embry’s son character is less effective. There is a tension between them and the film seems to hint at there being more than it turns out there is. The climax in particular seems to build towards a revelation which somewhat peters out and while the action does paper over the cracks, there is a sense that the film is reaching for something more.
Late Phases is a damn good horror with a unique feel and a lead performance which captures the attention throughout. While there are problems, it is a highlight in the horror genre this year and a film I hope gets attention.
Phil Wheat @Nerdly
Genre:Drama Screened:24th August 2014(FF14)Rating:15 Director: Adrián García BoglianoCast: Nick Damici, Ethan Embry, Tom Noonan, Tina Louise, Rutanya Alda, Caitlin O’Heaney, Lance Guest, Erin Cummings, Larry Fessenden