Night Watch (Nochnoy Dozor)

on February 17, 2006 by Annlee Ellingson
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Set in modern-day Moscow, this Russian horror-fantasy, the first in a trilogy based on co-screenwriter Sergei Lukyanenko's best-selling novels and the highest-grossing film in the country's history, envisions a world in the grip of an uneasy 1,000-year truce between good and evil, Light and Dark. Agents of the armistice, called Others, walk among humans but possess superhuman abilities -- they are vampires, witches, sorcerers and shape shifters. On one side are the Light Ones of the titular patrol, lurking in the dark, making sure the Dark Ones hold up their end of the deal. Roles are reversed for the Day Watch, the title of the sequel. Neither side can sway a newly detected Other to choose Light or Dark. Each must choose for him- or herself. And there's a prophecy that predicts the arrival of an Other so powerful that he will tip the balance between Light and Dark, depending on with which side he aligns.

Heavily influenced by such American directors as James Cameron, the Wachowski brothers and Quentin Tarantino, director Timur Bekmambetov, a commercial and music-video helmer who's filmed spots for Coke, Pepsi, Apple and Microsoft, incorporates an innovative vision with familiar elements from contemporary action cinema -- the massive gothic battle scenes of "The Lord of the Rings," the trenchcoat, shades and bullet-time photography of "The Matrix," the tricked-out cars of "The Fast and the Furious," an apocalyptic vortex a la "Ghostbusters." Stylistic visuals, kinetic editing and a subterranean sound mix combine to create a caffeinated yet claustrophobic mood. Even the English subtitles, rendered onscreen as though physically part of the scene, contribute to the film's overall atmosphere.

There are times, however, that Bekmambetov's style overwhelms the picture, tipping the plot towards melodrama, and the script in parts lags as though coming down from a high. Further, two parallel storylines fail to intersect in a meaningful way. One, about a curse on a mythic Virgin that augurs a pivotal battle, fails to develop the necessary anticipation for the climax to pay off in an exciting way. Much more compelling is the discovery of the prophesied Other and a father-son subplot that, interestingly, was added to the story during the development of the script. Starring Konstantin Khabensky, Vladimir Menshov, Valery Zolotukhin, Maria Poroshina, Galina Tunina, Victor Verzhbitsky and Dima Martynov. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov. Written by Sergei Lukyanenko and Timur Bekmambetov. Produced by Anatoly Maximov and Konstantin Ernst. A Fox Searchlight release. Horror/Fantasy. Russian-language; subtitled. Rated R for strong violence, disturbing images and language. Running time: 114 min

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