Violet Fields (Alyssa Limperis) is a fledgling stand-up comic stuck in a dead-end assistant gig, the sort of job with a boss who claims they’ll give you a leg up but mostly kicks you down at every opportunity. We’ve all had a job or friendship like that at some point. They’re hard to escape. You’ll do anything to keep it. Even unthinkable things. Because the person making the promise, regardless of who they are or what they’re capable of, has more cachet. Working close to that success is intoxicating. Electrifying. Most of all, it’s easy — or at least it’s easier than standing up for yourself and trying to make your own name in a big, scary world. Extra point if your boss happens to be the biggest, scariest thing in it.
Which, in Violet’s case, is true.. Her boss, Bob Devore (Ron Lynch), is a monster. No, he doesn’t have a casting couch, toss things in his office or throw temper tantrums. He literally eats other no-name stand-ups to feed on their flesh and creative energy. Violet finds them through the open-mic circuit and brings them to Bob’s TV show, “Too Late.” If he’s interested he takes a meeting with them. Violet knows the horrors of what Bob Devore (now understand the name) does when the moon is dark, but that’s just part of her job. Again: It’s easier to just go along with the big man than strike out on your own.
There’s a grimness to the moral lessons in Too Late, a perversity to Violet’s assistantship. The metaphor is clear, but boy is it dark. A shorter version of the movie, with a punchier final scene, would work as a Tales from the Crypt episode although the ultimately redemptive elements land because we come to care about Violet (and understand her, even if we don’t want to admit it). This is, after all, a horror-comedy and not a horror-tragedy. Violet’s journey has the ending we hope for rather than the ending we’d expect to see in real life.
Director D.W. Thomas does a stellar job playing with Lynch’s physical transformation from pale-skinned show host to engorged monster, not showing too much too soon. The implications of a monster-man with an unhinged jaw swallowing people whole is deeply upsetting. There’s no simple explanation of what he is beyond being the world’s worst boss.
Like many independent films, Too Late boasts recognizable faces on the poster who only show up for bit roles. Fred Armisen plays Fredo, the show venue’s lighting tech, and Mary Lynn Rajskub shows up very briefly as Gina Obispo, a famous comedian. It’s always strange to pick up one of these releases with recognizable faces only to realize they’re barely present and merely supporting cast for a crew of lesser-known performers who do a great job carrying the story. Too Late is a superb indie horror-comedy with a strong central metaphor, freaky monster work and a compelling story.