Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Cast: Konstantin Khabensky, Vladimir Menshov, Mariya Poroshina, Galina Tyunina, Viktor Verzhbitsky, Dmitri Martynov
MPAA Rating: (for strong violence, disturbing images and language)
Running Time: 1:54
Release Date: 2/17/06 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik
The Russian import Night Watch features a dark otherworld, a cursed virgin, a giant vortex hovering over an apartment complex in Moscow, vampires, shape-shifters, seers, and a millennia-old struggle between good and evil. And this is just part one. As an ethereal potboiler, Night Watch stands above its American counterparts with its engrossing narrative and surprisingly complex morality. It is also utterly silly, and while that comes with the territory, it occasionally goes beyond the inherently ridiculous nature of stories about dark otherworlds, cursed virgins, giant hovering vortexes, et al. For all these reasons, I liked the film more than I'd care to admit, because it will just reemphasize how odd my taste can be. It has a story from the first of a trilogy of novels by Russian author Sergei Lukyanenko, but it is so convoluted we really only take in an overall outline of what happens. It's enough of an intriguing setup, though, to understand what the events mean in the larger scheme of narrative at hand and to anticipate its forthcoming chapters.
A millennium ago, the forces of Light and Darkness met in a massive battle to determine which side would reign over the world. They are called the Others and consist of vampires, seers, shape-shifters, and, well, others with supernatural abilities. As the battle proceeded, the leader of the Light called a stop to the battle to parley with the leader of the Darkness. To stop the bloodshed, they settled a truce. First, neither side could force an Other to their side; each Other will choose Light or Dark of their own free will. Second, each side will establish a force to keep an eye on the other. The Darks established the Day Watch; the Lights created the Night Watch. In 1992 Moscow, Anton Gorodetsky (Konstantin Khabensky) visits an old witch (Rimma Markova) to try to win back his girlfriend, who has left him for another man. The witch tells Anton that his girlfriend is also with the other man's child, and she will not return to Anton unless the pregnancy ends. After starting the process, Anton changes his mind and members of the Night Watch arrive to make sure the witch stops. As it turns out, Anton is an Other, and 12 years later, he is a member of Night Watch.
The plot gets messier after that. A young boy named Yegor (Dmitri Martynov) is called by a dark, unknown voice, and Geser (Vladimir Menshov), the head of the Night Watch, sends Anton to find him and stop the vampires that have nasty plans for the boy. Anton's weapon of choice: a flashlight. Naturally, he has to use a special light bulb when hunting vampires. Anyway, the vampires are tough customers. One has taken a woman who loves him and turned her into a drinker of blood. It seemed like a good idea at the time, I suppose. They're against what we come to expect in that one cannot see them when they're invisible except in a mirror. Are these the fabled "reverse vampires" I've heard about? Anton's not a vampire. Or maybe he is. I'm not quite sure. He has sharp teeth, and he drinks the blood of dead animals, which also helps his ability to hear the dark vampire's call to the boy. See, there's an alternate world called The Gloom, which only Others can see, and it's there that they can only spend a certain amount of time in it. Maybe it's because of all the mosquitoes, or maybe it just gives an element of peril.
"What of the cursed virgin?" you may be asking. Well, Anton spots Svetlana (Mariya Poroshina) on the subway, with a swirling vortex over her head. She lives in an apartment building that also has a larger swirling vortex above it, and in one frivolously entertaining scene, we see the bolt from an airplane get sucked down from the sky, through the ventilation system of the building, and right into her coffee. The cursed virgin is a sign of bad times ahead, and Zavulon (Viktor Verzhbitsky) is preparing for a critical battle by playing a video game simulation of it (which includes him using his spine as a sword). The Dark Others have it rough; they have to ask permission of the Night Watch to do what they do. So to drink the blood of a human, they need a license. The Light Others, however, need no such thing. Maybe the good guys aren't as good as they seem. They do have a nifty ride, though: a delivery truck equipped with nitrous boosters. And Anton gets some help from Olga (Galina Tyunina), a sorceress who transforms from an owl and, obviously, needs some clothes.
Night Watch even has subtitles that are affected by the environment, and the film ends on a note that sends the whole story down an unexpected path. I haven't really spent much time analyzing the film, because from what I've said, you'll get an idea if you'll like it or not. I can't really analyze the film, anyway; it's too esoteric, too convoluted in its plotting, and too much fun in the way these elements are presented blind, as though the filmmakers expect we'll understand them by their mere existence. I liked it, and if your tastes run as occasionally goofy as my own, you probably will too.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.