Nightwatch is an interesting fantasy horror film from Russia. Based in a world of myth and legend this visually impressive tale feels fresh and unique. This is a challenging and fast-paced flick with plot twists and gore aplenty.
The film opens with a quick potted history of the battle between good and evil, we learn that the "Others" have been living amongst us and these supernatural beings divide into dark and light categories. The two opposing forces collide in medieval battle and the carnage is considerable so the leaders agree on a truce. The Nightwatch are the light forces who police the world ensuring that the dark "Others" don´t break the complex and confusing rules. After this action-packed narrative set-up we jump to the modern day and meet the lead character, Anton Gorodetsky.
Anton appears to be an average Russian guy and as we join him his life has taken something of a disappointing turn as his wife has walked out on him. He calls on some kind of witch to try and get his wife back and agrees a dark pact with her. As she begins a mysterious ritual the forces of the Nightwatch burst in and attempt to arrest her. This event triggers something in Anton and it transpires that he is also an "Other". We jump forward in time once more and find Anton is now a member of the Nightwatch assigned to hunt naughty vampires. While on assignment he stumbles on a potential threat to the truce which could lead to the final showdown between good and evil, an apocalyptic battle of earth shattering proportions. Anton must race against time to prevent the world from falling into chaos.
The film was written and directed by Timur Bekmambetov and is based on a series of novels by Russian sci-fi writer Sergei Lukyanenko. This is clearly a highly ambitious work as he attempts to conjure up an entire mythology and tie together enough plot threads for several movies. The result is impressive but also rather muddy and hard to follow. He writes some really interesting characters and scenarios but there is almost too much material here and consequently many of the intriguing ideas are not explored in any real depth although there are reportedly another two films on the way to complete the trilogy.
Bekmambetov´s direction is visually stunning employing a variety of computer graphics, animation and live action. Some scenes are reminiscent of Fincher (Fight Club) in style such as the camera track along the wire of a door buzzer as we travel through the wall to the apartment inside. The pace is exhausting as the revelations and action sequences are piled on top of each other and it is easy to get lost in the breathtaking visuals. While much of the action is well choreographed Bekmambetov does resort to quite a few quick cut flashy close-ups and strange flashback scenes mixed in with the present, consequently you may begin to feel somewhat dazed.
The acting is decent from a cast unfamiliar to western audiences. Anton is played by the downcast Konstantin Khabensky, the leader of the light, Gesser is played by the imposing Vladimir Menshov and the leader of the dark, Zavulon is portrayed by Viktor Verzhbitsky. There are too many characters to mention but no real stand out performances here. Interestingly the subtitles are used for dramatic effect appearing in different places and colours which definitely adds something to the proceedings.
As Nightwatch flies along at an unbelievable speed the various threads reach their bizarre resolutions in turn. The sound is grating at times as there are constantly mosquitoes buzzing around and hardcore metal kicks in during the action sequences. The effects are very well done and the impressive mixture of realistic gore and CG definitely works well.
This is a very different film from the usual cinema fare and worth seeing because of that. The epic style is achieved at the cost of some substance but there is enough to feast the eyes on here to make up for the lack of clarity and its best to just sit back and let it engulf you. You can´t help but admire the ambition of this film and it certainly looks more expensive than the reported $4 million budget. Nightwatch is fresh and original and it will be interesting to see how the trilogy plays out.