July 11, 2006
Starring: Konstantin Khabensky, Mariya Poroshina, Anna Slyusaryova, Aleksandr Samojlenko, Vladimir Menshov, Valeri Zolotukhin, Galina Tyunina, Galina Tyunina, Zhanna Friske,
Leave it up to filmmakers from another country, in this case Russia, to offer a fresh perspective on an established genre. The story may be as old as time but the way it is presented is not. Night Watch (2004) chronicles an epic, centuries-old struggle between a good and evil race of supernatural beings known as The Others. This conflict culminated in a mighty battle between the armies of both sides. As the bloody battle raged and a truce was finally called. The forces of good, known as the Night Watch, made sure that the forces of evil, known as the Day Watch, adhered to the truce and likewise.
It is a few years from now and we meet Anton Gorodetsky (Khabensky), a mild-mannered guy living in Moscow who has the latent ability to see into the future awakened by a witch. He is in fact one of The Others as the visions force him to see nightmarish, end of the world type stuff while screaming out in terror. It’s now present time and Anton has to track down a kid who, like him 12 years ago, was unaware that he’s an Other. The kid has the ability to tap into The Gloom, possibly another dimension that manifests itself as a strange vortex that threatens to tear apart our world. As a result, both the Day and Night Watch forces are very interested in this child’s potential.
Night Watch is a very stylish film that employs all sorts of flashy camerawork that often involves the speeding up or slowing down of scenes and clever uses of CGI, like when Anton tracks down a boy that might be a key to the truce and he envisions his head as a complex collection of veins (like as if he had X-ray vision). This is only one of many memorable images that populates this movie. Others include the recurring shot of a lone apartment building at dusk with the ominous sights and sounds of crows squawking and circling it. Night Watch was only made with a budget of $4.2 million and yet looks as slick and professional as any Hollywood mega-blockbluster you’re likely to see. In fact, in its native country it made more money than The Lord of the Rings.
It’s nice to watch a horror film use a new rule book instead of simply trotting out the usual cliches. For example, the scene where Anton and his colleagues dispatch a vampire with the use of a truck’s headlights not only looks cool but cleverly plays with the rules of movie vampires. Night Watch presents a world steeped in magic, in which a stuffed owl can be transformed into a live one in seconds and then shape-shift into a human being later on.
At times, Night Watch creates a hard to follow mythology involving an ancient struggle, in a much more interesting way than the similarly themed Blade and Underworld movies. The key is not to try and digest every single world and plot point and attempt to understand it, but to let it wash over you so that you form a general impression of it. Subsequent viewings, or, as the days go by will allow your brain to begin to form deeper impressions for Night Watch has incredible imagination and creativity in how it presents its characters and the world they inhabit. For example, there is a brilliantly orchestrated sequence that plays the chaos theory in reverse while paying a sly homage to Donnie Darko (2001). The filmmakers of Night Watch aren’t afraid to wander outside the box, creating an art house horror film.
One really cool feature of note is the film’s stylized subtitles that appear in odd places around the screen and are animated to complement the action in a given scene. It is a nice little touch that enhances the experience of watching the movie.
There is an audio commentary by director Timur Bekmambetov. He claims that this is the first Russian blockbuster/fantasy film. He was interested in merging reality and fantasy. He made this movie specifically for a Russian audience because he knew what they wanted to see. To this end, Bekmambetov points out references to Russian culture which are very informative and interesting to know.
Also included is a subtitled commentary by author Sergei Lukyanenko who wrote the novel that this film is based on. He talks about the differences between his book and what’s in the film. Lukyanenko also speaks at length about the mythology of this universe which helps explain things if you didn’t quite understand what was going on making this a very informative track also.
There is an extended ending with optional commentary from Bekmambetov and a sneak peek at the Night Watch sequels.