2005 Melbourne International Film Festival : Night Watch (2004)

22nd July 2005

Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Starring: Konstantin Khabensky, Vladimir Menshov, Galina Tyunina, Viktor Verzhbitsky, Dmitry Martynov

Tagline: Fantasy science-fiction, Russian style

The Others are humans who live amongst us, but have special abilities that set them apart from everyone else. Of course, any gift of nature can be abused, so there are 'Dark Others' who like to do nasty things and the 'Light Others' who try to keep them in line. When we first meet the two groups, it is the darkest part of the Middle Ages and they are fighting to the death on a bridge. The only problem is that the sides are evenly matched and it can only lead to them both being wiped out, so Gesser (Vladimir Menshov) calls a truce with the leader of the dark side Zavulon (Viktor Verzhbitsky) and they negotiate a peace.

Cut to 1992 and the situation has remained the same for centuries, with the light Others becoming the "Night Watch" to enforce the truce and the dark Others being the "Day Watch". What I liked about the story is that the line between good and evil is not that will defined. The Night Watch are righteous, but are very morally ambiguous as they 'licence' the dark Others to become vampires, then send unwitting victims to their doom so they catch the dark Others breaking the truce.

One such victim is Anton Gorodetsky (Konstantin Khabensky) who goes to a dark Other 'fixer' to get back at his girlfriend for leaving him. When the Night Watch raids the place, we find out that Anton is an Other also who has the power of 'seeing' and he tries to come to terms with it.

Twelve years later, Anton is a member of Night Watch whose job it is to track down dark Others who are breaking the truce. To do this he has to drink blood, which messes with his brain. He manages to track down the 'vampire', but he rashly decides to go in alone while his support team is racing across town in their super-charged utility truck. A nasty confrontation ensues, which leads to the death of Dark Other, Anton being severely injured and the rest of the Dark Others turning against him.

The team carries him to Gesser, who heals him and Anton tells him of a woman known as the 'cursed virgin' who is a signal of an ancient prophecy of the apocalypse about to come to pass. Still half-alive, Anton wants to try to track down the boy who was meant to be the victim as he has a strange attraction to him. At first Gesser tries to stop him, but then gives him a partner in the form of an owl named Olga (Galina Tyunina) who later comes back from her animal form much to Anton's surprise.

As time counts down to the opening of a vortex around the cursed virgin and the final battle between good and evil, the Night Watch tries to stop it happening. Anton also finds out something about the young boy that makes his desire to protect him make sense. Will he be able to do so? Will the end of world be averted? You will have to find out for yourself.

While some of the themes here may be familiar to those of you who are a fan of the vampire genre, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, they way it is presented here is very different. For starters it is much grittier and darker and very Russian. (I liked the scene where the power plant workers were boiling sausages on the nuclear reactor.)

The way the two sides are presented is also really well done. The Night Watch use the 'City Lights Company' as cover and so are the maintenance men of the two, while the Day Watch are all nightclub owners, musicians or other night owls. Also Zavulon is a great name for the Day Watch leader and I liked his Doberman.

Proving that Russian production can match those from Hollywood, the special effects and stunts are very well done. The only thing is that the editing in some of the fight scenes was a bit annoying. In particular I liked the 'transformation' of some of the characters like Tiger Cub and Olga, I wish there had been more of this kind of thing in the movie though.

As this movie is based on a trilogy of novels by Sergei Lukyanenko, I am sure they are planning at least two sequels and I will be looking forward to them when they come out. I would recommend this movie to science fiction and fantasy fans who would like to see a story set in a contemporary context.

Rating: 8/10