Night Watch::Nochnoi Dozor

Saturday night I went down to Cinemapolis to see Night Watch. It’s a Russian film that was released a couple of years ago there, but has just been released in to limited distribution under the Fox Searchlight Pictures label. I had seen some previews for it last summer and had been highly intrigued by it. It’s the first movie in a trilogy (Day Watch, the second movie was released in Russia in 2005, Dusk Watch, the third movie will be released this year in Russia) about the classic Good vs. Evil. It also has vampires, witches, shape shifters, and a kid with a perpetual nose bleed.

This movie certainly lived up to my expectations. In fact it exceeded them. It’s a subtitled film, but they worked the subtitles in to the movie. In some scenes where the subtitles are in red they sort of drift away like blood in the water. It’s pretty clever and ads to the entire feel of the film. Continue on to read more with some minor spoilers.

The story takes place in modern day Moscow which gives it a very gritty feel. For a movie with a low budget by Hollywood standards (only 3.5 million American) it certainly has some rather high production values and some beautiful effects (ie the shapeshifters).

The theme of the movie is one central to literature throughout the history of time: the conflict between good and evil. However, the lines between good and evil are really blurred. In the film they are described as the light and the dark. The light side seems almost tyrannical in their control over things under the guise of doing what is best to maintain the balance of things and keep the peace. Many of them seem to go about their duties because that’s what they’ve always done. It has no longer become about doing right, but doing what they are expected to do. In fact the forces of the light seem almost bored. The forces of the dark aren’t a group of mass murdering psychopaths bent on the destruction of mankind. They are, however, rather self-indulgent, don’t care much for the rules, but have a highly defined sense of personal freedoms. They question authority and challenge the preconceived notions that appear to have been in place for a thousand years since a truce was made.

I’d have to guess that the director was influenced by several Hollywood movies as some scenes were very reminiscent of such films as the Matrix trilogy. That’s not to say that he borrowed from them or was trying to capture the same feel of those movies, but it felt like there was some level of influence. Then again what directors or writers haven’t been influenced by works that they’ve enjoyed?

The characters were very engaging. Of the ones the focused on each had theirs strengths and weaknesses. There was really no bad guy who you came to hate, nor was there some good guy you came to cheer on. They were very human, each struggling with their own perceptions of the light and the dark and their place in the world. The moral ground of all the characters was very muddied, and their reactions to things were influenced by the events of their lives, much like anyone would be. A lot of character study could be done here, but that’s for another time perhaps.

I knew this was part one of a trilogy, so I was expecting a cliff hanger of an ending. However I felt the ending of the movie could very well stand alone without a second film (though I really do want to see the second film). It left with an ending where even though the dark had just had a major victory, you’re not really sure if anyone actually won. It leaves you with a lot to think about – and makes you wonder if you were sucked in to this world which side you would choose to be on. The choices are not as obvious as a typical Hollywood film would have you believe.