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Night Watch: Don’t call it a vampire movie!

I was given the opportunity to review a preview dvd of the Russian/Horror/Fantasy/Thrillery/Thingy film ‘Night Watch’ this week and, if I’m being honest, I didn’t have very high expectations for the film. It just sounded all a little silly, especially when you have the film summed up for you by so many other sites as “A Russian Vampire Movie”… Now, we all know that “If it’s on the internet, it must be true” but I’m sad to say that in this particular case (along with all that email promising great things in the ‘shorts’ department – if you get my meaning!?) that mantra doesn’t hold true.

Yeah, there are elements of horror/fantasy, but using the term ‘thriller’ may be a bit of a stretch. Sure there are plenty of those mystical russians in the movie too, the odd one or two of them are even vampires, but ‘Night Watch’ is far from what you’d expect from “A Russian Vampire Movie”…

Originally released as Nochnoi Dozor, Night Watch is the first episode in a trilogy. It establishes a long held truce between the forces of Darkness and Light. Each taking turns to ensure that the other is upholding the agreement made millennia ago. The forces of darkness police the day light hours and those on the side of good protect the night. While the forces of darkness happen to include the odd blood sucking vampire, who, from what I can tell, seem to stick pretty close to modern Vamp-Lore, they are not by any means the focus of the story. So, get any notion of an UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION suck-fest out of your mind.

It seems that, for the most part, the nether-world created by Night Watch director, Timir Bekmambetov is populated by a kind of being known as an “other’ (No, not the folks from LOST.. these are completely other others). Others are beings who live their lives as your bland old vanilla variety humans up until something dramatic or inexplicable occurs in their life and their true nature reveals itself to them. Joining Club-Other usually comes with a random selection of whacky, super natural powers which manifest as anything from the ability to see into the future to the ability to shape shift (and although not stated in the movie, I suspect that there may even be the odd “Whoops, I’m a vampire!” moment too). It is at the point of discovering ones ‘otherness’ that the choice to be an agent of dark or light must be made.

And as you’d expect from a movie dealing with this kind of mystical shenanigans there’s the inevitable impending apocalypse. However the plot of Night Watch has very little in common with similar (if there have ever been any) films produced by those english speaking clods in Hollywood… OK, I’ll give you a minute here to let that sink in… Wha? Yeah, I said ‘english speaking’. Uh-huh, That’s right Night Watch is in Russian, so you’re going to have to have at least a 3rd year reading capability to get your head around this one. However, the subtitles aren’t the reason that this is billed as a horror film. In fact these are the coolest subtitles that I think I’ve ever seen. Yeah, I used ‘cool’ and ‘subtitles’ in the same sentence, just you try and stop me! More than just appearing at the bottom of the screen, displaying some poor or just outright incorrect translation of the dialogue spoken in Russian, NIght Watch’s subtitles actually interact with the on screen action… they dissolve in water, or pan away as though fixed to some passing element of the background, and even move between characters on the screen. The result is a completely immersive experience set to rival the story I posted a few weeks ago about my dumbass mate who was so drunk that he thought he could understand Spanish.

Bekmambetov has been compared to Tarantino, a notion which both he and I reject. Bekmambetov direction is far more coherent than Tarantino (In my opinion). Where Tarantino’s movies tend to feel like a series of extremely well thought out ten minute sequences, Night Watch manages to show the same level of creativity (and then some) and yet is more cohesive than the experience delivered by a Tarantino movie. Bekmambetov employs an impressive and stylish technique to make Night Watch look like a gritty, huge money flick and he managed to do it with a poultry 4.2 mill.

With it’s sequel already in the can and the final chapter set to start production, Night Watch sets a solid start to this trilogy and if the two films to follow can live up to this first installment I thinnk we could have something of a future cult classic on our hands here.

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    I’ve been waiting for this to come out on DVD ever since i went and saw it at the cinemas.

    Despite how dark and twisted this film is, you can still call it “refreshing”, and i agree with this review. You have all the elements of Hollywood that you love, without the crap. The film moves at a different pace, and that is something desperately needed in the films we get exposed to here in “The West”.

    I’m excited that this is a trilogy.

  • Great review, elroy.

    I’m looking foward to seeing this in the next couple of days, everyone’s opinions on it have been so positive.

  • Nice review
    I went along to Nightwatch, with high expectation myself, and I wasn’t dissapointed. In fact, I enjoyed it far more the second time around. (Most likely because I was half asleep the first time I saw it.)

    Also a note on the DVD – both on the version I purchased, and the one we hired from the local store – the ‘cool’ subtitles didn’t appear to work. Either our DVD players suck, or I’ll be taking back my copy.

  • no cool subtitles?
    I’m not sure what version of the DVD you have but the copy I received for review was for the Australian (region 4) DVD release.

    Glad you guys like the review… who ever you are.

    ~ elroy

  • Simple awesome
    Nightwatch is a simply awesome film. You’ve got to admire the scope of a film made on such a miniscule budget. I’m hanging out for a copy of Nightwatch on DVD, it’ll make a cool addition to my collection (I have to buy a truly great movie after foolishly squandering $9.95 on an ex-rental copy of Fantastic Four). Looking forward to the rest of the trilogy.