Reviewed by

Bud Carlson

Night Watch is not your average vampire movie. It’s a cool, dark, Russian, almost art-house version of a vampire movie. The fantasy of the movie doesn’t come from giant drooling beasts chasing after and slaughtering innocent people, nor does it come from an epic battle between beasts with fur and beasts with fangs. Instead, the fantasy comes from the weird tensions between good and evil, and the oh-so-cool images that the movie uses to portray them. 


But before we talk about what this movie is, let’s talk about what it’s not. First, it’s not “the Russian Matrix” as so many online bloggers and chatroom geeks have hypothesized. In fact, other than its dark nature and bleak portrayal of the world, it couldn’t be any more different. And second, it’s not “the new face of terror” either (as the movie posters all acclaim), as the movie is good enough that it doesn’t have to stoop to the levels that most horror movies do these days. This film isn’t “good-like-Blade”, it’s “good-like-Hitchcock”. That’s because it’s able to get done with one freaky image, what it takes most other films two explosions, a severed head and a car chase to portray. Don’t get me wrong, that other stuff is good too (I mean who doesn’t like car chases and beheadings!), but Night Watch finds other, more original ways to get it done. In fact, throughout this movie, there isn’t a single silver cross wielded, a single neck bitten, and no one wears a cape. Remember the music videos put out by the rock band Tool back in the 1990’s? Night Watch has those same weird vibes. 

Night Watch is based on the first in a trilogy of novels about supernatural beings called Others. Others are like humans only they have certain powers that humans don’t (most are vampires, but some are shape-shifters, witches, and fortune tellers). The

Others are born into the world as being neutral, and only as their supernatural powers develop do they make the choice between becoming Light Others (good guys) or Dark Others (bad guys); this is a decision that each individual Other must make for himself, of his own free will. Rules exist between the two forces governing such things as to how “undeclared” Others can be recruited to either side. And for centuries, there has been an uneasy truce among the two types of Others (think of it as a supernatural Cold War), but we learn that something big is brewing, and that the long-standing truce is likely hanging in the balance.


Night Watch begins with a flashback to 12 years ago, when Anton Gorodetsky (played by Konstantin Khabensky) innocently enough goes to see a witch, wanting her to conjure up a spell to punish his cheating girlfriend (he believes she’s pregnant with another man’s baby). Anton is not aware that he is an Other at that time, but the witch knows, and tries to get Anton to commit to the side of the Dark Others in exchange for her performing that spell, which would be a clear violation of the terms of the truce. That witch is promptly arrested and her spell reversed.  Now, fast-forward 12 years to modern day Moscow, and we find Anton is a “field agent” for the Light Others, hunting erratic Dark Other vampires who break the truce and try to feed on unsuspecting mortals. Anton’s battle against true evil begins when he accidentally kills a vampire while trying to stop him from feasting on an innocent young boy. The 12 year old Yegor (played by Dmitry Martynov) escapes with his life, but the vamp’s girlfriend isn’t willing to let the matter drop. This kicks off Anton’s journey into and out of The Gloom, a surrealistic, hazy, sleep-like state that is extremely dangerous to Light Others. Did I mention that vortex of evil is about to open, and usher in the apocalyptic end to humanity?  Oh, but wait, I’m getting ahead of myself, and I am absolutely not going to give too much of this movie away … you must go see it for yourself!


The drab dank setting of Russia adds a lot to the film, as does the fact that the movie is a Russian-language film (with super-cool subtitles that seem to come to life and add another dimension to the appearance of the movie). The acting is very solid (though it is often difficult to determine who is speaking during quick exchanges if you are reading the subtitles), and the characters are more-than-interesting enough (including Bear and Tiger-Cub who are shape-shifters, the owl-sorceress Olga, and Anton’s stoic boss who monitors the activities of all the Dark Others and maintains a library of all of the world’s myths).  Special effects are used somewhat sparingly (at least compared to what we have seen from the more recent films of this genre), but this serves to make what effects are used appear that much cooler and more relevant to the story. The action scenes are top-notch, and the film moves at a break-neck pace, resisting the urge to dwell on some of the “holy crap, what did I just see?” images that really capture your imagination. But it is the classic story of good-versus-evil that carries the movie, with the sense that something big is about to happen.


Armstead’s Second:  When grand ambition meets with less than grand execution, you have Night Watch.  This film had some great touches to it, such as the drab stylized look of Moscow, the incredibly clever use of interactive subtitles, and the reliance more on story than on special effects (I looking at you ‘Underworld’).  But for me, the movie seemed a bit too slow and deliberate, and the story far too complex than it needed to be.  Though I admired much of the film, I can’t jump on board and give it a ringing endorsement.  If this is the first of a trilogy, I will be excited to see a much-improved part two.

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