For the past millennium, the eternally battling forces of light and darkness have kept an uneasy truce. Opposing undercover agencies the Night Watch and Day Watch have been set up to ensure it remains unbroken. But the conflict could soon be reaching
With its good-versus-evil theming, messianic prophecy plotline and line-up of the usual supernatural suspects (vampires, witches, changelings), Night Watch isn’t, on the surface at least, the most original of fantasy-horrors. We’ve seen the clandestine clash of immortals before, while no script can get away with references to a ‘Great One’ these days without summoning up images of Keanu Reeves calmly halting bullets with a waft of his palm. Yet, though all its ingredients may appear stale, Night Watch cooks them up in such a smart way that the end product tangs of originality.
The twist is, this Russian box-office phenomenon is a movie less about a supernatural war than a supernatural cold war. With Light and Dark so evenly matched, the only logical outcome is total mutual annihilation, so their respective leaders call off their apocalyptic royal rumble in the first five minutes. This puts the conflict on a psychological level; the story’s more about volition and manipulation than kung fu and gunfire, centering on beleaguered everyman Anton (Konstantin Khabensky), a human whose belatedly discovered psychic talents hurl him into the middle of both sides’ plottings.
The simplistic concept mutates into a surprisingly complex story, introducing a whole host of enticing characters, many of whom shift offstage only a few scenes later. It is important to view Night Watch as Part One of a trilogy, otherwise those loosely hanging plot strands will leave you feeling like you’ve watched an elaborate TV show pilot rather than a movie.
“Elaborate” being the key word — director Timur Bekmambetov, who’s namechecked the likes of Tarantino, the Wachowskis and Ridley Scott (plus he’s clearly a Buffy fan), ensures virtually every sequence is festooned with idiosyncrasies. At one point, a twitchy, spider-legged doll skitters across the floor; at another, a customised flashlight is used to maim a vampire. Even the subtitles join in, Bekmambetov seamlessly weaving them into the action, sometimes having them whisp onto and off the screen in smoky italics, sometimes blasting them out in capitals. His work, to risk an obvious word, is spellbinding — and the sequel, Day Watch, can’t materialise soon enough.
Twisted, mysterious, bold and compelling, this is a raging cyclone of a movie, sucking up elements from Blade and The Matrix and whirling them into something new. Open your mind, it'll blow you away.