N: Night Watch (2004)

Letterboxd ♠ Master List

Well, it’s been a while since we’ve had a Russian representative on Hubrisween…

First of all, we are informed that there are people who not quite human, called “others” for their various talents, and they are basically arrayed into Light and Darkness factions. In olden times there was a tremendous battle between the two, but the armies were too evenly matched, and a truce was called. Each faction watches the other, Nightwatch is the light side watching the dark side, and Daywatch is the vice versa.

Twelve years ago, our protagonist Anton (Konstantin Khabenskiy) consults a matronly woman to get his estranged wife back from her new beau; the woman is a witch who claims a baby his wife is carrying must be aborted before she will come back to him. She can do this, but Anton must take the sin of the child’s death upon himself. That’s a violation of the truce, and she is busted by a Nightwatch team. The fact that Anton can see the team proves that he is an Other.

Twelve years later, Anton is working for Nightwatch, and it’s a job that really sucks. The mission that opens the story major requires him to get in sync with a young boy who is experiencing “The Call” – the spell of a vampire summoning him to a remote location to be exsanguinated. To do this, Anton must exploit his friendship with the vampire next door to get some pig blood to drink. This leads him to a vampire and his new bride, who is the one performing The Call – the boy is to be her first victim. Anton’s backup is late in arriving (mainly because Anton is a crap operative) and he winds up killing the male vampire in self-defense. This is going complicate his life exponentially for the rest of the movie, as the new female vampire escapes and still has a bead on the boy.

Further, while he was on the hunt, Anton saw a woman in the subway who his vision reveals was under a curse, and in his debriefing finds out it is THE curse – one that will cause a vortex of suffering and evil that will bring on, at last, the final battle between Nightwatch and Daywatch, and the end of the world.

There’s quite a bit of mythology thrown at you in Night Watch, some of it pretty standard fantasy boilerplate, some not. The not part seems pretty elastic, for instance the concept of “The Gloom”, a sort of twilight dimension only accessible by Others. First we’re told this is the safest way for Nightwatch operatives to interact with rogue Dark members, then we are told it has a time limit and requires blood sacrifice.

Night Watch is based on a novel by Sergey Lukyanenko, which itself is composed of three interlocking stories, of which the movie is only one. The sequel, Day Watch, is another, and the supposed third movie in the trilogy, Twilight Watch was the last of these. Director Timur Bekmambetov, however, split to make the 2008 Wanted, and never looked back. If, like me, you saw Wanted before Night Watch, the dazzling, rushing camerawork in many of the sequences are going to be very familiar. It’s stuff like that which made Night Watch the highest-grossing Russian movie of that year, and an international success (and made certain Russian film types grumble that it was “too American”).

The nature of the segmented source novel, though, carries with it an ironic violation of Chekov’s gun; you’re given a lot of characters with very cool potential that is never exploited. That was left, I assume, for the sequels, one of which we are never going to get.

Night Watch has a ton of interesting visuals that are worth checking out, but if you’ve never interacted with Russian cinema, be aware of some standards: a love for doomed characters, a large dose of fatalism, and a disregard for short running times. I found it interesting but not terribly engaging. As always, your mileage may vary.

1 Comment

  1. I liked this the first two times I saw it, although the second time I found flaws I glossed over initially.

    There was a turn-based strategy game for PC based on the film made in 2005 (we got it a year later) and one based on Day Watch (which seems to have never gotten a US release), but if the first game was any indication, nice visuals don’t well save gameplay that’s very much the same few mission types over and over.


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