Night Watch: The Movie

night watch movie poster

Anton Gorodetsky is cool.  He didn’t used to be: he used to sport a terrible bowl cut and layers of sweater vests and collared shirts.  But now he’s slick hair, sunglasses, leather jackets, cigarettes tumbling from his lips, and the ash spilling over his fingers.  He’s an Other now; the bumbling man from before is gone.

anton and olga

Anton and his (actually human) partner, Olga.

The greatest strength of director Timur Bekmambetov’s 2004 film adaptation of Night Watch is its uber cool mood.  I’ve seen few film urban fantasies, and before this none of them really seemed to realize the full potential of the genre.  They’re all gritty, yes, but no others I’ve seen have been so frenetic.  Bekmambetov’s Night Watch is all about the racing energy of a city that pulses with the magic that fills it to the seams, but that hides around alley corners, under the concrete streets, through the Gloom.

Six years before the BBC’s Sherlock burst onto the scene with its feverish graphics and texts on the screen, Night Watch had already done it.  Even the subtitles on Night Watch are elements of the film’s atmosphere: the vampire’s call turns red as it’s being written, then drips off the screen like blood.

I’ve never felt anything quite like the tone in this movie, but there a few things that come close:  the Knight Bus in the third Harry Potter movie, or worlds designed by Guillermo del Toro.   Bekmambetov’s vision is a bit creepier, a bit more twisted, but those at least give some sense of what Bekmambetov’s Moscow is like.

Though it more or less follows the plot of the first third of the book, the Night Watch film is a whole different beast from its source text.  Even its Anton is different, and aside from one matter I’ll get to later, I’d rather not compare the two.  What the film does is really pull viewers into Anton’s head, into the world of an Other.

creepy spider thing

A resident of the Gloom.

Others used to be human.  For some of them, including Anton, quite recently.  In many ways they still are.  The biggest difference is not that they can do magic (because how many of us have imagined doing it, could almost make it feel normal, like an extension of ourselves?), but that they see the magic world around them.

Yet, magic isn’t the right word for Night Watch’s world.  That’s Gloom, the term the film uses for the extra dimension available to Others, one that adds a creepy, dark, but beautiful layer onto reality.  The film is all gloom, but it does so without being too moody.  As I said: it’s fast, frenetic, even trippy.  Discarded toys sprout legs and wander off, objects twist and turn and convulse, even vampires, contrary to the common image, harden into rock and then shatter upon their demise.

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