WATCH: GOTHIC DETENTE
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NIGHTWATCH (NOCHNOI DOZOR)
Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov
Russians are a deep and mysterious people with their glottal stops, dark
apartments, retro leather jackets, and KGB sunglasses. Director Timir
Bekmambetov’s fantasy-horror NIGHTWATCH capitalizes, nyeet, delights in such
Cold War throwbacks. There are bottles of Stoli, dank kitchens ruled by
folkloric Russian witches, and hapless, heavy-lidded heros who stumble into
the long hidden, diabolical workings which lurk behind the everyday.
Based on the Russian horror novel by Sergei Lukyanenko, NIGHTWATCH is a
fantastic and unsettling mix of old and new. The tale itself is the old
tried and true of good-vs-evil. You are either Nightwatch, the good guys,
policing evil forces and thus consigning them to the Light where their
powers are diminished. Or you are Daywatch, denizens of evil: vampires,
ghouls, witches, demons, and rock stars.
Bekmambetov begins with a nearly Tolkien battle and a prologue explaining
the ancient rivalry while a bloody and very graphic battle unfolds on a
mythic bridge where Geser (Vladimir Menshar) and Zavulon (Viktor Verzhbitsky),
generals of the armies of Good and Evil, began their war. We are told, “As
long as humanity has existed there have been Others among us--witches,
sorcerers, shapeshifters . . . the Others are soldiers in the eternal war.”
No one is born to either tribe in this eternal war. One must choose. Anton,
the quintessential dreamy-eyed Russian (Konstantin Khabensky), is thrown
into his moment of choice as we shift from mythology to Moscow, 1992.
Anton’s visit to a back kitchen sorceress in a last ditch effort to win back
an errant wife will set apocalyptic events in motion. Though Konstantin
Khabensky as Anton conveys the futility of the effort with an engaging
weariness and sarcasm, there is something romantic and, therefore, very
Russian in the willingness to do whatever it takes for love, to feel so
passionately for something or someone that you would risk its destruction.
His choice is made without some heroic speech but in spite of his own very
Director Bekmambetov peels back the fabric of reality with a cinematic glee
that harkens back to those first days when our American auteurs first
discovered what the camera could do without CGI. He employs the magic of the
slow stop. Flights of fancy emerge from the shudder of an eyeball, the
ominous buzzing of an ordinary housefly.
The plot is as heavy, convoluted, and darkly comic as a Bulwinkle/ Boris and
Natasha episode. There are supernatural rocket propelled emergency vehicles,
vampires and vortexes, and an ancient Byzantium curse that begins with the
requisite virgin, a combination of Eve/Pandora/and Mary, once again singling
out a mysterious woman as the responsible agent in unleashing Evil into the
world. NIGHTWATCH is reminiscent of the best horror-camp of the seventies
combined with the heady propulsion of spectacle driven music videos, video
games, and action flicks.
Audiences who grew up in the time of Reagan/Gorbochev will want to make
allegorical and political connections. In many ways, the uneasy detente
between the powers of Nightwatch and Daywatch mirror American and Russian
relations. The surprise ending in particular raises the question of whether
supernatural, or global powers, for that matter, who have set themselves
beyond reproach harbor evil dealings of their own.
Vladimir Menshar as Geser, the general of the Light forces of Nightwatch, is
not without his own Anthony Hopkins like menace, and Viktor Verzhbitsky, is
an appropriately imposing villain. Mariya Poroshina is Svetlana; Galina
Tyunina is the shapeshifter Olga, with twelve-year-old Dmitry Martynov as
Darkly Russian. Gloomy and arrogant about it, NIGHTWATCH raises a creaky
hell that manages an off-the-wall extravagance. A Foreign-Goth Must See.