Sunday, October 6, 2013

Day Two Hundred and Seventy-nine - Nightwatch, "Wait, wasn't this about a morgue serial killer?"

I kid, I kid... there really are two Nightwatch movies. One was from the mid-90's and starred Ewan McGregor as a night watchman being framed for a necrophiliac murder spree. The one I'm reviewing tonight for our Spooktacular is the Russian supernatural feature that put director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Abraham Lincoln:Vampire Hunter) on the map.

The film starts with a medieval prologue explaining the eternal battle between the Light and Dark "Others" who have been in a constant cold war with each other ever since. It's a few steps above a Renn Faire production, but interesting nevertheless.

Shift to early 90's Moscow and the film's nominal protagonist, Anton, hires a Dark Other witch to get his wife back and, in a fit of despair, is convinced by the witch to curse her to miscarry the child he thinks belongs to another man. The Nightwatch, Light Others who try and prevent Dark Others from breaking the Truce, show up and stop the curse from being completed. As a result, Anton is revealed to be an Other himself... a seer who must choose to serve either the Light or the Dark.

Skip to 2004 and Anton is an investigator for the Nightwatch, trying to track down a vampire couple who are luring victims to be drained against the Truce. Anton shows up and saves the boy, but at the cost of killing the Dark Other who attacked him. In what should be a clear cut case of self-defense, Anton is accused of breaking the Truce because he used deadly force to prevent the vampire from killing him (which the bastard almost did anyway, without the intervention of the leader of the Nightwatch healing him).

This act sets into motion a chain of events that reintroduces Anton to his son and the prophesied birth of the greatest Other in history all while the Nightwatch tries to avert an apocalypse in the form of a curse vortex that threatens all of Moscow with destruction.

For the most part, this is an amazingly interesting experimental film. It's use of CGI is sparing, instead relying on many jump cuts and a plethora of practical effects that simulate everything from magic to vampirism to shapeshifting. I particularly liked Olga's transformation from Owl to human at the beginning of the second act... very visceral and frenetic!

Also, quick shoutout for their creative use of subtitles for the western release. I especially liked the bloody effect for the vampire's Call and the shouts coming in quick staccato. Very chic.

The problem with Nightwatch, though, is its a very... well... Russian film in regards to its grey area morality. Instead of giving Anton credit for trying to stop the witch (and the fact that the curse never actually went off), he must take the full weight of the sin anyway... a destined choice that will change the balance of power in the world forever. In that matter, the movie just has no sense of honor, preferring to end itself on an oblique tragedy when the entire thing could be solved for the Light if father and son would just sit down and talk for thirty seconds. That, of course, doesn't happen, and Yegor readily laps up the Kool-aide that Dark Other leader Zevulon sets before him.

But, my own qualms and issues with that ending aside... I actually applaud the filmmakers for going that route. It's funny. I may not like it, but it's still an interesting way to finish an already stylistically excellent film. A Hollywood ending it definitely is NOT! So, kudos for that.

While it's not particularly scary... more in the vein of an Underworld-type adventure horror instead of a thriller, Nightwatch is definitely worth a watch and I eagerly look forward to seeing its sequel, Daywatch.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

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