Dnevnoy Dozor Reviewed
Day Watch DVD cover
There are few sequels that surpass the original, but Day Watch is easily better than Night Watch, the first installment in director Timur Bekmambetov's epic horror trilogy. As with Bumer 1 and 2, what starts as an action adventure veers unexpectedly into a love story. Bekmambetov, however, is determined to mess with your mind just enough to keep you off-balance.
The story begins a few years after the events of Night Watch, with our hero Anton Gorodetsky (Konstantin Khabensky) still patrolling the streets of Moscow at night on the lookout for evil vampires preying on mortals. When a pint sized vampire starts drinking the blood of babushkas, Anton gets a sickening but familiar feeling responding to a radio dispatch from Night Watch HQ (for all their supernatural powers, the Light Others cruise around Moscow in old Soviet utility trucks). Anton's partner, Svetlana (Mariya Poroshina, who played Phil's wife in Brigada) senses that there is something personal for him about this case. When Svetlana catches the vampire child "in the gloom" (the dark world that parallels our own) she rips off his ski mask to reveal -- Yegor, Anton's vengeful son. After siding with the forces of darkness at the end of Night Watch, the child has been tutored in the ways of evil by the vampire overlord Zavulon (Viktor Verzhbitsky).
Critics here will point out that Yegor is a sort of vampire version of Anakin Skywalker --the boy whose well-stoked childhood grudge turns him into Darth Vader. But what keeps Day Watch interesting (unlike Star Wars) is the question to the plot -- if you had the power to magically erase one regret in life, what would it be? In the movie, the device for changing history is called the Chalk of Fate, and it is the prize the 14th century Central Asian pillager Tamerlane seeks in the opening battle sequence of the film, only to find that he is not the master of his own life, much less of the world.
Click on the extended post to read spoilers and watch the trailer
Kostya (Alexei Chadov), Anton's vampire friend and neighbor
One of the interesting historic allusions the film makes is to the excavation of Tamerlane's tomb in Samarkand. In the movie, the Night Watch member Olga joins Soviet archeologist Mikhail Gerasimov's historic expedition that opened Tamerlane's tomb on June 19, 1941. Whoever opened the tomb, so the legend goes, would unleash the demons of war. In real life, the Nazis launched their invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.
When Anton finds himself framed by Zavulon for murdering members of the Day Watch, his boss Boris Ivanovich Geser (Vladimir Menshov) swaps his body with that of Olga, the shape-shifter who worked as his partner in the first movie. This is the part where Bekmambetov goes in for laughs, with Olga walking, talking, and staring at the beautiful Svetlana like a man. Svetlana, unaware of the switch, confides in the nervous, chain smoking Olga that she is in love with Anton, but that he withdraws from her. Then the Anton in Olga's body reveals himself, resulting in a very mind and gender-bending sequence for the audience. However, Anton and Svetlana are not the only love story in this film; Anton's vampire neighbor Kostya (Alexei Chadov, who played Vorobey in 9 Rota) falls in love with Zavulon's eternally bound vampire concubine, the beautiful but raging Alisa Donnikova (Russian pop singer Zhanna Friske). Alisa's ridiculous red sports car sequence (see the trailer below) could be Bekmambetov's tribute to the New Russian way of driving.
Alisa Donnikova (Zhanna Friske): the New Russian witch pop star
When Anton realizes that getting the Chalk of Fate is the only way to save himself and stop Zavulon from using Yegor to trigger the final war between good and evil, he switches bodies with Olga and books a flight to Samarkand. But shortly after takeoff from Moscow, Anton remembers that Zoar, the ancient Central Asian proprietor of a bar he frequents, has been hiding the Chalk of Fate in plain site on his "Special of the Day" chalkboard. Anton returns and asks for the Chalk, and Zoar agrees and hands it to him, but reminds him that he can only use to change something that happened in his life, not the necessarily the fate of other people. Zoar of course, was waiting for Tamerlane when the conqueror smashed into his city, hunting for the Chalk six centuries before.
Night Watch director Geser (Vladimir Menshov) and Day Watch overlord Zavulon (Viktor Verzhbitsky)
Just when Anton is about to write "Yegor" on Zoar's chalkboard and try to erase his accursed offspring from existence, the boy shows up looking for his father and asks Anton why he has never called or even acknowledged him. Anton embraces his son, but then Yegor slips away with the Chalk. Fortunately Zavulon cannot use the Chalk of Fate himself (the movie doesn't really explain why) but now gathers all the Dark Others at Yegor's birthday party to celebrate the boy becoming a full-fledged member of the dark side, in a sort of grotesque bar mitzvah.
Svetlana (Mariya Poroshina), Anton's new love
At this point the movie repeats some of the dark satire of the first film, with an odd sequence involving a gipsy band and Dark Others who (like Alisa) in their mortal guises work as entertainers and Moscow glitterati.
When Svetlana shows up to save Anton from the Dark Others, she is confronted by Yegor, who sees her as female competition for his father's affections. Meanwhile, inside the banquet hall, Anton is unexpectedly treated by Zavulon as a guest of honor, and given a front row seat for his son's initiation into the forces of darkness. At one table of Dark Others, Anton confronts the witch he sealed his Faustian pact with in 1992, and she tells him that the only way the Chalk of Fate can unseal his doom is if he uses it back at the place where the curse started. While most of the witch's Soviet-era apartment bloc has been knocked down, a single wall still stands.
Director Timur Bekmambetov's film made $20 million in the first ten days after its January 1, 2006 release in Russia
When Svetlana accidentally sheds a single drop of Yegor's blood while trying to get past him into the banquet hall, the cursed child unleashes his full fury on Moscow and destroys the city. The full forces of the Night Watch are forced to fall back as the building where the black celebration was held is ripped apart. But Anton escapes and finds Alisa desperately trying to use the Chalk of Fate to bring her young lover Kostya back to life, after Zavulon has killed him. The Chalk cannot change her fate, but Anton takes it and runs to find the last remaining wall from the building where his life took a turn into darkness.
Olga (Galina Tyunina), who swaps bodies with Anton
This time, instead of writing "Yegor" to try to undo the "mistake" of his son, he writes "Nyet" on the witch's wall. Suddenly, we see the young Anton back in 1992, with the witch once again extending her hand offering black magic. But this time, Anton chooses life. The redemption of Anton Gorodetsky is complete -- leaving you wondering what Bekmambetov has up his sleeve for Dusk Watch, the final chapter in the film trilogy.
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UPDATE1: Fox Searchlight pictures is planning a 2007 U.S. theatrical release, according to one of their fan sites. No word yet on when a DVD version with subtitles will be released. For more information, check out the "Into the Gloom" website.
UPDATE2: The U.S. theatrical release date is now set for June 1, 2007.
Channel One's Russian language trailer for Day Watch