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Night Watch review

Last September, when Total Film was sitting by Quentin Tarantino’s swimming pool, having just presented him with his Readers’ Award, the motor-mouth director had two subjects he was raving about. The first was the upcoming Christmas party of a certain Hollywood studio, where the year previously he had enjoyed some outrageous good fortune with the ladies. The second was a Russian movie called Night Watch, a comparatively low-budget action-horror that had just become such a cult smash in its homeland that it had done better box office than The Return Of The King.

To save Tarantino’s blushes we’ll say no more about his jammy December evening back in 2003 – apart from, maybe, a begrudging ‘hats off’. As for Night Watch? Well, with it finally here, picked up by Fox in the face of stiff distributor competition and now feted as the start of a major new franchise, what to report? Simply this: we haven’t got the foggiest what it’s all about, but it’s a helluva movie. Vampires, car chases, people turning into animals, bad guys pulling swords out of their spines, a staggering David Fincher-meets-Pearl Harbor shot that follows a bolt falling from a plane at 30,000 feet into a mug of coffee in a first-floor kitchen... As a dark netherworld it’s everything that Constantine should have been and a thousand times more. Even as the third act descends into narrative chaos, your brain will still be so frazzled by the sheer audacity of the first two you’ll barely notice.

Set in contemporary Moscow, Timur Bekmambetov’s startling movie is the first instalment of a trilogy based on the best-selling Russian sci-fi novels of Sergei Lukyanenko (parts two and three being Day Watch and Dusk Watch). What starts as The Matrix (“The old lady the hero first meets,” notes Tarantino, “is an evil-ass Oracle with fucking bells on”) quickly morphs into a European Blade, packed with blistering set pieces – a particular high point being a vampire fight choreographed via the shards of a smashed mirror. A shame that it then embarks on an ill-advised jaunt into Lord Of The Rings fantasy-land that, despite some obvious hard work in the edit suite, fails to push the geekboy buttons it aspires to while maintaining any sort of storytelling sense.

Those after this year’s Donnie Darko, though, need look no further. Bloody, brave and visually brilliant, it may yet baffle mainstream audiences but it’s a directors’ wet dream and a cult film fan’s genuine puzzle box, packed with enough epic pretensions and stoner questions to keep its legion devotees-in-waiting occupied for many a hazy moon. Or, as QT more succinctly put it, “I’ve just seen the future, and it’s made my cock hurt.”

This year's Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut. Flawed but visually flawless and a riotous rampage for anyone prepared to go with it.

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