Night Watch

Reviewed By Todd LaPlace
Posted 03/20/06 03:11:01

"What? I mean, what?"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

I’m not sure what’s going on in Russia to cause them to film something like “Night Watch.” It’s dark, it’s dank and it’s full of vampires and evil prophecies. Is it an allegory for Russian social politics or just a hip monster movie? I just wish the movie made me care enough to find out.

Within the depressing squalor of Timur Bekmambetov’s “Night Watch’s” Russia is an inherent visual beauty. The film rapidly changes from a green-soaked frame to blue, at once fantastically lit and covered in shadows. Made for $4 million (expensive for Russia), the movie has the same visual style as many urban American indie films — quick and gritty, but only enough to keep it interesting. I only wish the same could be said for the story.

Thousands of years ago — this is one of those ancient battles, “dawn of civilization”-type movies — the warrior of Light and Dark met in one of those classic epic, bloody battles in a picturesque countryside, but because the sides were so evenly matched, the leaders of the Light and of the Dark formed a shaky truce that would last through the ages. In 1992, Anton (Konstantin Khabensky) pleads with a Dark witch for the return of his adulterous wife, who he is told is pregnant with the other man’s child. In order for her to complete the task, she must perform an otherworldly abortion, because the child will grow up rejecting Anton as a father, which is unfair to an innocent. But as she goes to complete the hex, a group of Light warriors burst in, restrain the woman and charge her with breaking the truce. One of the fallouts of the arrest is the revelation of Anton’s status as an Other — someone predestined to join the fight as either a Light or Dark soldier — and he must choose whether to use his seer powers for good or evil.

Jump 12 years into the future and Anton is a disheveled seer on the side of good. He has joined the fight as a member of the Night Watch, a collection of Light Others charged with policing the truce at night — the Dark Others run Day Watch, which, of course, polices it during the day — and his new assignment is to track a boy being called to an crummy abandoned building by a pair of vampire lovers. Defending himself from their attacks, Anton’s ultraviolet flashlight (with a little help from his Night Watch partners) accidentally kills the male, upsetting the balance and causing the Dark Others to put a hit out on Anton. In his pursuit of the boy, Anton runs across Svetlana (Mariya Poroshina), a cursed virgin who may represent a final breaking of the truce and a potential apocalypse.

My gut reaction to this plot summary (and remember, I’ve seen the film) is “What?!?” so I can imagine how you must feel. Reminiscent of my reaction to seeing the Kate Beckinsale’s vampire flick “Underworld,” the film tries to craft a rich back story of a prehistoric war and its contemporary consequences, but there’s almost too much mythology to make sense. It’s easy to understand the theoretical dichotomy between Light and Dark, but the film shows little distinction between what it means to be on either side. Members of the Dark side are not inherently evil, and members of the Light side are far from noble, so does it honestly make a difference which side a new Other chooses?

The real dilemma of “Night Watch” is whether to champion style or substance. If you’re interested in the latter, “Night Watch” may be a movie to skip. The story is so confusing and all over the place, I can’t help but wonder if they’re saving the coherent stories for the two sequels (“Day Watch” is already a hit in Russia and “Dusk Watch” should easily follow suit). If you’re more interested in visuals, however, “Night Watch” has enough excessive stylization to overdose you on flash. Even the subtitles are interesting, as they seem to be an organic part of the frame. The words appear and disappear as characters walk through them, they float around as if caught in waves and there’s no guarantee they’ll appear at the bottom of the screen. But if there was ever a movie where the sleek subtitles needed more heft, “Night Watch” is it. Here’s hoping “Day Watch” fleshes out the hipness so I’ll actually care by the time this trilogy ends.

Despite my dislike, I can understand why “Night Watch” became popular in Russia. I can understand why it’ll turn into a cult film in the U.S. I may not agree that this fluffy, incoherent action should became a hit, but I’m still holding out hope that “Day Watch” will be worth investing some time in.

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