Dave and Rachel's movie reviews.


Saturday, September 10, 2016

Night Watch & Day Watch

Year: 2004 (Night Watch), 2006 (Day Watch)
Running time: 114 minutes (Night Watch), 132 minutes (Day Watch)
Certificate: 15
Language: Russian
Screenplay: Laeta Kalogridis (Night Watch), Alexander Talal (Day Watch), Timur Bekmambetov
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Starring: Konstantin Khabensky, Maria Poroshina, Vladimir Menshov, Valery Zolotukhin, Galina Tyunina, Dmitry Martynov, Yuri Kutsenko, Aleksey Chadov, Zhanna Friske, Viktor Verzhbitsky

Anton has his eye on some treaty-breakers.
Night Watch was released to a reputation of hype. Based on the first third of the book of the same name, Night Watch promised a uniquely mind-blowing treat. In truth, it was fun, but ultimately needed to spend more time making sense than trying to be cool. We find ourselves in the middle of an uneasy truce in the eternal battle between good and evil, with each side policing the other to ensure the truce is held to. The light side have the night watch, who keep an eye on their enemies during the darker hours, while the evil-doers have the day watch to maintain constant vigilance on the other side. Without the truce, the two sides are so evenly matched the only possible outcome to all out war would be mutual destruction. A new struggle emerges, with each side relying on the free will of others choosing which side to join, each side trying to find a way to tip the balance of power in their favour.

When we first meet the story's main protagonist Anton (Konstantin Khabensky) he is on the verge of striking a deal with a witch to get his wife to come back to him. A deal which will involve the miscarriage of her child. Before the deal can be struck, the witch is stopped by officers of the night watch and it soon becomes apparent than Anton is an 'other' and then we move forward 12 years where we see Anton has joined the night watch. One striking thing about these films is the shades of grey blurring the lines between light and dark, Anton's terrible unfulfilled deal being an obvious example of this.

What follows is a high octane, tension-filled coolfest that is great fun to watch, if sometimes a little difficult to follow. There are some slightly dodgy effects at times, but considering what must have been a fairly low budget, they hold up relatively well.

While on the trail of a vampire who is intending to feed on 12 year-old boy Yegor (Dmitry Martynov), Anton sees a terrifying vision of a woman who appears to be under a terrible curse, and then manages to kill one of the vampires while saving Yegor. Killing a member of the day watch brings a boatload of crap down on Anton's head and it also turns out that the woman he saw is Svetlana (Maria Poroshina), who has a 'vortex of damnation' above her head (as you do). In addition to this, Yegor is Anton's son, the one he almost killed to strike a deal with a witch 12 years ago.

The climax is suitably spectacular, but it also contains some though-provoking ideas, as the light-side Anton sees bad decisions he made earlier in his life come back not only to bite him, but to significantly shift the odds in dark-side's favour, as Yegor turns out to be a long-prophesised powerful other that has now chosen the side of evil. It elegantly posits the assertion that you can claim to be on the side of good all you like, but if your actions are evil, you will reap the consequences.

That was one way to get ahead of the traffic.
There appears to be some confusion about this, but it seems (according to Wikipedia) the sequel Day Watch, filmed at the same time, covers the events in the final two thirds of the book Night Watch, and not, confusingly, the book sequel Day Watch. It seems that there was an intention to make it a trilogy, but we're still waiting on Twilight Watch. Like the first movie, Day Watch is fast paced, beautifully stylised and occasionally baffling.

Early on, we're introduced to the highly unusual McGuffin, the Chalk of Fate. Apparently this is a piece of chalk that one can use to change decisions you made in the past that have turned out shitty. Despite his son choosing the dark, Anton tries his best to protect Yegor and covers up his treaty-violating attacks on humans. Agents of both sides race for the Chalk, Yegor resents Svetlana's growing relationship with his father and the whole thing culminates in most of Moscow being destroyed when the centuries old stalemate is broken. Not many people get the kind of second chance Anton does here, as he uses the Chalk of Fate to reverse the terrible decision he made right back at the start of Night Watch, thereby restoring Moscow, the truce and wiping the events of the two films from history (although not from the memory of some of the main characters).

To some this might seem some kind of Bobby Ewing-in-the-shower type of cop-out, but it feels right to me having events come full circle, leaving you with the determination not to make bad decisions before it's too late to reverse their consequences.

Lots of fun. Not as mind blowingly revolutionary as The Matrix, which is clearly a big influence, but enough smarts under the extensive special effects to get you thinking.

Night Watch: 7/10
Day Watch: 7/10

Opinion on these movies seems to be mixed to good, so I seem to generally be with the majority - for example this review of Night Watch by Steve and this one of its sequel at Cherub Cow.