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Film Review: Night Watch (Nochnoi Dozor)

Night Watch (Nochnoi Dozor) (2004; Directed by Timur Bekmambetov)

There’s no point tiptoeing around it: the vampire genre has become Hollywood’s most lamentably efficient producer of complete bilge in recent years. So much crudtastic trash has been swathed in black leather and given pointy incisors lately that even an opera of the inane like Underworld can pass as a success (and even spawn three sequels! Bloodsucking, indeed). A genre once defined by lascivious sexual encroachment and elegant gore has even been streamlined and bowdlerized into the scrubbed, saccharine stalker-love fantasy of the Twilight Saga. Let’s face it: sparkling Mormon vampires that are “safe” objects of desire for flighty teenage girls are no kind of vampires at all.

So how refreshing and exciting is it, then, that one fleeting, much-needed shot in the arm to a genre that seemed to have had a stake driven into its heart came out of Russia (another, Let the Right One In, was spawned by Scandinavia)? In the Slavic world, the vampire legend is woven into the folkloric fabric of the culture, instead of blotting the surface like the empty gothic subcultural stain it has become in bloated suburban America. Timur Bekmambetov’s singularly stylish and entirely absorbing Night Watch promised to reinvigorate the legend in cinema much as Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian has done in literature, but while Kostova’s vision is historical and academic, Bekmambetov’s is modern and urban.

Night Watch slakes its bloodlust on the decaying corpse of the old Soviet social order, and the film is set in broken-down urban spaces of poetic decomposition and clutter. The film is a marvel of production design, and its stylish effects and visual cues add to the overwhelming coolness of the detached spaces. Lingering long after any of the complex elements of the vampire-mythos (or even the memorably weary EveryComrade lead performance from Konstantin Khabensky) are the assured visual touches that announced Bekmambetov as a deployer of nightmare images worth following. That he went on to direct stylish but underseen action blockbusters like Wanted and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (which treats vampirism as a political history in-joke rather than as a metaphor for the aftermath of a historic political collapse), as well as a sequel to Night Watch (Day Watch), does not diminish the slick achievement that Bekmambetov unleashes here.

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Categories: Film, Reviews
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  1. April 2, 2013 at 8:31 am

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