I’m going to be very upfront about this: Late Phases is not my favorite movie. I could tell where the plot was headed quickly, the wolves weren’t what I had hoped, and the transitions between scenes felt too abrupt. That being said, this one does feature something that’s pretty well-done – something we don’t often get films, let alone in horror: a caring, adult father-son relationship. In a departure from the typically-sensitive mother-daughter relationships, we get to watch son Will (Ethan Embry) care for father Ambrose (Nick Damici) in a manner that is caring, thoughtful and realistic.
|Finally, a decent portrait of a father and a son.|
The sheer amount of care worked into their interactions is subtle yet effective. When we first meet the pair, the blind Ambrose is searching for a headstone while his son Will patiently waits for him. When Will texts his wife Anne (Erin Cummings) to let her know that he’ll be late, his dad picks up on this immediately and chastises him for texting while driving. A small exchange, but a telling one: dad is looking out for his kid. In return, the bulk of Will’s actions demonstrate a concerned adult child attempting to care for his aging, disabled father. Will equates helping his father get settled into a new home in a retirement community to “dropping you off at prison”; he tells Ambrose that he dislikes Ambrose walking around without his canine companion; he asks if his father has eaten after a long day of dealing with the fallout of the werewolf attack. Will’s wife Anne contributes to the caregiving as well, asking about blood pressure medication and making sure that the blind man doesn’t misplace his life’s savings. Here’s the beauty in this: we don’t hear Will or Anne bitch and moan about how much time they’re spending with Ambrose. No one gripes that he’s costing them time or money. They’re there because they want to be there.
|Nice to see that not all parents are treated as burdens.|
We’re rewarded with realism, which is something that film only uses for either comedic effect or Oscar-baity drama in this situation. Let’s face it, the realities of caring for an ailing, aging family member are not easy, and there are arguments that go along with it. This film chooses to include them rather than exclude them: we get Will and Ambrose fighting about money; we see Will upset when his blind father pulls a gun on him; we hear Ambrose chastise, “I have to live here” when Will calls the gate guard to the community an asshole. Will also manages to hit a breaking point during the film, but it’s not based around any resentment for caring for his father: it’s based around the unresolved issues Will has with his parents’ divorce and his father closing himself off emotionally. We get the disconnect between these two men: one who wants a loving relationship, and in return, his father asks, “What do you want from me? Hugs and kisses?” When Ambrose interjects that he’s allowed his private thoughts (especially around his divorce from Will’s mother), Will fires back, “That has everything to do with me” before telling him that he’s going to leave and live his own life. These are two men trying to work through a tough point in their relationship, and when Ambrose is injured, his first instinct is to call his son and give him that closure before he dies. He leaves a message telling Will, “Be the man I couldn’t be. I love you boy, and always have.” How does Will respond? He goes to his father, late at night, presumably in his pajamas. Someone who is hard-hearted wouldn’t do that; someone who argues with a parent but really loves that parent and would pull out all the stops for that parent would. Those are moments that can and do happen in real life, and I’m glad that we got to see them. Writer Eric Stolze did a great job in conveying a tricky subject.
On the flip side, we also get to see a type of counterpoint that is both realistic and not what we normally witness in cinema: a mother/daughter pairing that is neither close nor caring. Mother Delores (Karen Lynn Gorney) gets a phone call from her daughter Victoria (Karron Graves), who is trying to get out of a planned visit. Victoria offers a weak, “I didn’t think you’d still be awake” before offering a half-assed excuse as to why she can’t be there, and her mother counters, “I’m not the one who’s confused. If I didn’t remember these things, no one else would.” From there, the subject changes to Delores’s answering machine message, which still has her now-dead husband’s voice on it; Victoria wants her to change it, but her mother protests, claiming that she likes hearing her dead husband’s voice. Victoria suggests a dog for company, then is easily distracted by a screaming child in the background. At this point, death is imminent for Delores, who asks her daughter, “Can you just stay with me for a second? Can you stay on the line with me?” No response. Victoria doesn’t hear the door breaking down and doesn’t call for help for her mother, despite that it’s strange that her mother’s phone line has just gone dead in the middle of the night. It’s Ambrose that overhears the commotion and asks through the walls if she’s alright, and it’s Ambrose – a disabled stranger – who is responsible for the authorities being called to investigate. It’s also Ambrose that treats Delores as a person in his description of her in front the police, whereas Victoria is overheard grumbling, “I just want to get this over with and move on with my life” while giving a statement. There is no expression of having lost her mother at that point; Victoria tells Ambrose, “I should have taken her out of this place as soon as I heard the stories. There were so few options… I swear, I never thought she…” then trails off into tears. The subtext is there: Victoria thought her mother was a pain in the ass, and now she’s rid of her. She’s upset at the disruption to her life. We never hear from this character again, and that’s damning.
|Interesting that the mother is the one abandoned.|
That we got to see both the everyday nuances of a father-son relationship as well as the complete detachment of an annoyed daughter toward her aging mother touches honestly and sensitively upon how the aging parent interacts with the harried adult child. The relationships normally presented in film are those of the father and son attempting to rebuild after no contact, or the dutiful daughter caring for her other. This presentation shines light on something closer to reality: sons and fathers can and do care about each other: they bicker, they get frustrated, but in the end, they do care. Even if the rest of the film was a wash, the portrait of the relationship of Ambrose and Will is to be commended.