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Night Watch DVD Review

There was probably a turning point over the last few years when foreign cinema became less about neo-realism or socio-political high-art pieces, and more about arse kicking...

Published on April 25th 2006.

Night Watch DVD Review

Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Starring: Konstantin Khabensky, Vladimir Menshov, Valeri Zolotukhin, Mariya Poroshina
Duration: 114 mins
Cert: 15

Russia’s supernatural Night Watch takes a bite out of Hollywood’s tired appeal…

There was probably a turning point over the last few years when foreign cinema became less about neo-realism or socio-political high-art pieces, and more about arse kicking. Suddenly, the most culturally vibrant, original and shocking cinema came from anywhere but America, and now Russia is getting its insulated mitts in on the action.

Oddly, it was Wesley Snipes who recently brought Russia’s cinematic weight to the mainstream, as in the original Blade film, our sword-swirling hero unexpectedly appears in The Mother Land, there’s snow on the floor, he’s wearing a long, black coat; he mutters something menacing in Russian and wisps of hot breath curl from his lips. It was by far the most incredible moment in the history of cinema.

I embellish, of course, but there’s definitely an essence surrounding Russia that exudes a granular, raspy and incontestable cool. One man who knows a little something on the subject is Night Watch director Timur Bekmambetov, who, with Night Watch has single-handedly resurrected the Russian film industry post-communism; taking a risky leap in creating a ‘mainstream’ film in a country whose main cinematic exports are arthouse pieces. Night Watch, an effects happy spectacular concerning vampires, witches and the forces of darkness, was amazingly, made for under £3 million - about the price of a Tom Cruise belch - and went on to make excess of ten times the amount in a country where film piracy is so bad, it is considered a transgression to purchase an official DVD.

Shrewd business-sense, yes, and it would be nice to say that those Russian underdogs have taken a big bloody-bite out of Hollywood’s swollen jugular and aesthetic, but that isn’t quite the case. Director Timur Bekmambetov isn’t interested in arty self-importance; his personal deities are Hollywood behemoths James Cameron, George Lucas and Quentin Tarantino.

So keen on creating a ‘Hollywood movie’ in Russia, he’s even decided to shoot the second and third films – Day Watch and Dusk Watch respectively - in America, and is even considering making one of them in English.

Yet fret not, oh-Hollywood-pooh-poohers, for Night Watch is no brainless piece of cinematic garbage, - Michael Bay is not one of Bekmambetov’s idols – and the film boasts more brain-scorchingly and mind-blowingly cinematic moments since The Matrix first flo-mo’d.

And that leads us to one of Night Watch’s unfortunate stigmas. Billing a film as ‘Matrix-meets-Lord of the Rings’ is a boast that no film can attain, but to the film’s credit, it never attempts to. Besides the emblematic Fantasy story arc: - a chosen one will bring balance to the clandestine conflict between the ‘Others’ that has lasted for centuries - there is little which correlates to either Matrix or ‘Rings. For those thirsty for action, there is lots of it, - or rather, we’re given just enough to wow us and move the onwards - and for those concerned with the fantastic, Night Watch has more imagination just in its subtitles than most films muster in their entirety.

Anton Gorodetsky (played by Konstantin Khabensky) is the everyman who discovers his ability to conjure prophetic visions when he decides – probably on poor judgement, considering – to seek revenge on his ex-missus. 12 years on, he’s downing pigs-blood in an aid to heighten his vampire hunting senses. Once he finds his quarry, he becomes the victim of a severe face-kicking and gets a pair of scissors jabbed, unfavourably, into his hands and chest. Ouch.

Clearly, Anton is no Van Helsing, he’s not even Buffy, he’s simply a man lost in a world that has changed irreparably around him. The world in which he now exists struggles to hold onto a fragile truce between the two supernatural superpowers, a truce created to prevent the annihilation of both parties; it all reflects the burdens of the films location, Russia. Besides the allegorical undertones of the Cold War, Night Watch is a film that still manages to purvey freshness and vivacity in a time where fantasy and trilogies have become so common they even invented the ‘quadrilogy’.

Night Watch does however have its faults, in particular the final third of the film feels likes there’s been an accidental slip from fourth to first gear, the cogs and narrative whir too rapidly for the audience to adjust. Yet even fleeting moments of confusion can be replaced with four of five moments of brilliance: invisible heads pumping blood, squeaky toys spouting spider’s legs, spinal swords, owl-ladies, the gloaming… its utterly extraordinary in every sense. Roll on parts two and three…

Stephen Fairbanks
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