In our opinion there are TWO big reasons to go along to the FrightFest this year. One of them is George Romero's Land of the Dead which we'll be reviewing tomorrow and the other is Nightwatch.
Russian cinema is undergoing something of a revival and at the forefront of the new breed is Nochnoy dozor. At the time it was the most expensive Russian movie ever made with a budget of $4 million. On its initial release in Russia it took double the money of Lord of the Rings: The Return of The King and after seeing it we can see why. It's dark, but a lot of fun and has some jaw dropping special effects that actually compliment the story rather than detract from it. Director Timur Bekmambetov has a wonderful eye and proudly wears the influence of Jean-Pierre Jeunet on his sleeve. And even though you're also reminded of The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb in the few stop motion sequences it's probably closer as an experience to the first time you saw Donnie Darko.
It's more a fantasy movie than a horror movie and unlike American 'paint by numbers' drivel such as Constantine it never treats the audience as stupid. A second or perhaps third viewing is required to catch all the details of the fully formed mythology that serves as rich backdrop to the main events. There's more going on in this single movie than in most Hollywood big budget trilogies - The Matrix franchise WISHES it were a fraction as good as this.
The plot is not simple. The ongoing battle between good and evil has resulted in an uneasy truce between the two sides. The truce is upheld by the Nightwatch who police the dark element (witches, vampires and the like) by licensing them in a very civil service kind of way, but then kick all sorts of arse when the rules are broken. Those on the opposite side are in turn policed by the Daywatch who also strive to keep the factions equally balanced. This has been going on for a thousand years when we meet Anton, a member of the Nightwatch who is given the task of keeping a young boy alive after he falls under the spell of vampiric lovers. Along the way there is a curse to contend with that threatens to bring down planes, killing all those it comes into contact with - as well as shape shifting mages and the phantoms of Anton's own past. That he is friendly with his blood-sucking neighbours further complicates matters.
There is obviously a well developed world here that we only get a small taste of as Anton knocks back vodka and blood in equal measure, polices the Gloom with his trusty flashlight and undergoes bouts of psychic surgery after a run in with the wrong end of a pair of scissors. Heads turn to ash, trucks flip through the air, women morph into tigers and from owls, buildings explode and everywhere is the flapping of dark wings.
The pace is unrelenting and scenes that cause initial confusion are only made clear much later as the action jumps from warring knights and barbarians to the rooftops of modern Moscow. The cast are wonderful and obviously enjoying themselves in showing the rest of the world how to make intelligent eye candy without compromising the plot (Michael Bay should be forced to watch this at gunpoint until he learns that adding black helicopters to a bad movie does not make it any better).
Even those who normally shun subtitled movies will be drawn to this one as the newly translated dialogue shimmers and bleeds amongst the action, actually becoming part of the film. Expect to see that technique copied a LOT.
Nightwatch plays at the FrightFest on Sun 28 Aug and opens on general release in October. The trailer which we've pimped many times can be seen here. Daywatch should have been part two of the trilogy but it now seems that the movie's American distributors, Fox Searchlight, have persuaded the film makers to squeeze the two proposed sequels (following the path of the original novels - unfortunately still untranslated) into a single film. This is a shame because Nightwatch proves on many levels that when it comes to original film making the yanks just aren't needed.