Sunday, October 25, 2009

Nochnoi Dozor: Night Watch (2004)

Night Watch is an urban horror fantasy film based on the novel by Russian author Sergei Vasilievich Lukyanenko. This film adaptation was quite popular when it was released, even earning a limited opening in US theaters, and like any adaptation it takes liberties from the source material. In fact, both the Night Watch and Day Watch films are adapted from the first of Lukyanenko’s novels, Night Watch, which makes it all the more confusing… but screenwriters, directors and studios have never been known for making decisions that actually make sense, so the audience is left to sort it out.

You’ve probably heard the mythology of this universe before: there are ‘Light Others’ and ‘Dark Others’ who once warred over the fate of the world. These two factions consist of all manner of supernatural figures: hedge wizards, shapeshifters, clairvoyants, vampires. Sounds pretty similar to…many other properties, including the original World of Darkness game universe from White Wolf. In the reality of the film, the two sides have created a truce, since they realized their endless fighting would only result in their mutual genocide. Since that time, the Night Watch was formed to monitor the Dark Others, and the Day Watch to monitor the Light Others. If the Light vs. Dark theme wasn’t already derivative enough, there are various events that take place involving ‘prophecies’ and a ‘chosen one’ Other who will one day tip the favor of the balance between the Light and the Dark. During the events of this first film, a series of conflicts and clues leads the two sides to converge over the cursed ‘Virgin’, who is unknowingly responsible for the summoning of a Vortex of Damnation which could destroy the human world. It is up to the Others to resolve their differences and cease this from happening. Along the way, there is a twist.

That’s all I’m going to tell you about the story, because frankly, it’s weak. So I’ll tell you what’s good about Night Watch: it is very successful in taking its arcane customs and various supernatural oddities and placing them in conjunction with the reality of our 21st century world. The various rituals and abilities of the Others are very low key, and they have the ability to remain unseen in a supernatural realm known as The Gloom (sort of like The Umbra from the World of Darkness). This results in a rather seamless and slick moving series of events as we are quickly introduced to the characters and shuffled along towards the climax.

The special effects in Night Watch are pretty interesting. The film does not shy away from uncomfortable scenes like a witch performing a remote abortion, or the lead character Anton getting a pair of scissors through his hand. There are also some beautiful scenes which
create a nice balance between the urban Moscow environment and this supernatural otherworld (the raven scenes in particular are quite good). The score is reasonable, though the use of chugging, shitty nu-metal reminds me of bad videogames from the 90s. The actors are decent, in particular the faction leads Geser and Zavulon, performed by Vladimir Menshov and Viktor Verzhbitsky. But I didn’t really feel a connection to any character in the story.

The world of Night Watch is one that I’d like to explore further, but unfortunately that wasn’t to happen in this film, as it races pretty quickly to resolve its silly prophetic conflict. As far as urban horror fantasy films, I do prefer this to the fashion-first, retarded Underworld series. The characters here feel much more real than the gothic horror archetypes of those films, and this creates a better atmosphere.


Verdict: Indifference [6.5/10]

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