Night Watch is the first in an epic horror/fantasy film trilogy
After months of delays (see my first mention of Night Watch here) part one of the epic Russian horror trilogy has finally been released outside of New York and LA. After grossing $16 million in Russia (four times what it cost to make), it is ridiculous that it took this long to get the film distributed widely in the U.S.
Thanks to M. Night Shyamalan reviving horror as a psychological genre in the 1990s, and The Exorcism of Emily Rose showing the box office potential for supernatural thrillers, I must admit some of the most promising young filmmakers in the world are now making these kind of movies. And what Night Watch deserves credit for is originality, both in the fantasy storyline and in the occasionally jerky camera work and clever use of special effects.
Click on the title to read Russia Blog's review of Day Watch, the next film in the trilogy. Click on the extended post to read more about Night Watch and view the film trailer.
(WARNING: Plot Spoilers Follow)
Anton on the Moscow Subway
Director Timur Bekmambetov could not have pulled off this achievement without top-notch acting. Konstantin Khabensky plays Anton Gorodetsky, a young man who comes to a witch (Rimma Markova) in her drab Soviet apartment building with a problem in 1992. Anton's girlfriend Irina (Mariya Mironova) is leaving him, and he wants her back. The witch claims that Anton's girl is pregnant with another man's child, a son. She offers to use black magic to force Irina to miscarry, but only if Anton accepts the bloodguilt for killing the unborn baby. As with any Faustian bargain, there is always a catch, and Anton's choice and the intervention of the Night Watch to save the child is crucial to the plot. During this episode that opens the film, Anton discover's his supernatural power (or curse) for seeing glimpses of the future, and chooses to join the forces of good to atone for his sin.
There are, as many other critics have noted, some familiar elements to the plot of Night Watch. The ancient battle fought between good and evil that opens the film will be familiar to fans of The Lord of the Rings. Unlike the defeat of the diabolical Sauron, this one ended in a tie. As a result a truce was established between the forces of good and evil, who agreed that they would refrain from killing each other and that no mortal would be forced to choose good or evil, but that everyone would have free will. The forces of good would see that the truce was observed by night, hence the Night Watch, and the forces of evil by day, hence the Day Watch (the title of the second film in the series, which has already doubled the box office gross of the first in Russia).
The vampires and werewolves on each side will be familiar to fans of the "Underworld" series. As in Dune, Star Wars, and The Matrix trilogy, both sides are watching to see the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy, that a chosen one will come to decide the fate of the universe.
In this film the lines between good and evil are not so sharp. Anton discovers that the chosen one, a boy named Yegor, is his son, after rescuing the boy from a ravenous vampire luring him to the dark side. After killing the vampire Andrei (Ilya Lagutenko) in self-defense, Anton has to protect Yegor from Andrei's bloodthirsty girlfriend Larisa (Anna Dubrovskaya) and save Moscow from the vortex of destruction swirling around a cursed woman named Svetlana (Mariya Poroshina). Larisa is a mortal that the Night Watch, in a swap, allowed to be lured to the dark side. This compromise raises the question of whether the Night Watch are really fighting evil or just sacrificing innocents cynically.
Also of note among the cast is Aleksei Chadov (who starred in the 9th Company) as Anton's friend, neighbor and enemy Kostya, who is bitter about how the Night Watch seem to dictate the observance of the all-important truce. Zhanna Friske, best known as pop singer in Russia (she is shown performing on stage) plays the evil vampire queen Alisa Donnikova.
My favorite character in this film was not the haunted Anton, trying to make amends for his past, but the woman watching his back, Olga (Galina Tyunina). Olga is a shape-shifter who first appears as an owl statue, which leads to a humorous segment that provides some relief from the action sequences. When Olga sings to Anton on his cellphone while he stalks the vampires and re-sews Yegor's button on his shirt like a good Russian mother, you see some much-needed human warmth injected into the storyline. The shocking cliffhanger that sets up "Day Watch", the next film in the trilogy, reinforces Anton's responsibility as a father.
Very few horror movies do this much to affirm the value of innocent human life, or the cost of taking lives, so for this reason alone I recommend "Night Watch" for mature audiences.
Anton and Yegor
Watch the film trailer in English
Opening scene of Night Watch - the great battle between the Light and Dark Others
Film title in Cyrillic: