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Russian cinema awakes
By Mark Moorehead

March 4, 2006

The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! Finally, after 14 years of free enterprise and the liberalization of artistic expression, Russian cinema has come down to a level we understand and they’re exporting it to a theater near you.


Say goodbye to those four hour propaganda dramas and cure for insomnia biographies about dead poets and ballerinas that never made it across the Atlantic. Say hello to Russian horror films fitted with state of the art special effects, adrenalin pumping chase scenes and yes, characters you may even care about.


Night Watch follows the recipe of every successful Hollywood Vampire Film: begin with a silly historical premise, include drawn out duels between good and evil, unleash blood thirsty vampires on unsuspecting human hosts and bathe the film in creepy music and out of this world C.G.I effects that wow you and scare you at the same time. The formula works. Night Watch is the highest grossing film of all time in Russia and it only cost 4 million American dollars to make. Of course, wages are a little lower in Russia and there’s no screen actors guild (union) in what was once the bedrock of communism. Lenin would be turning over in his tomb if he knew this.


There’s only one problem with Night Watch; it doesn’t translate very well. And, I don’t mean just the fact that you have to read subtitles. Of course, that too is part of the challenge for a genre better known for its visual cues than dialogue. If you’re busy reading text you might miss what’s going into an empty glass. And, the characters in Night Watch drink a lot of really gross stuff.


Russian moviegoers are not bothered by the fact you can’t visually tell the good guys from the bad guys or that characters are introduced with little fanfare or explanation of their role in the film. On the other hand, American audiences prefer to know the allegiance of team players before the action begins. It’s not important if you’re a shirt or skin as long as we don’t have to keep guessing. Unfortunately, most of the characters in Night Watch look and behave so similar you’re not sure if you just applauded the impalement of evil incarnate or a hero from heaven.


Then there is the slightly complex and convoluted plot. “As long as humanity has existed”, begins the movies prologue, “there have been others among us: witches, sorcerers, shape-shifters”. ‘Others’ in this film are either good or evil beings. One thousand years earlier non human good and evil beings battled each other to a stand still and decided (like the stalemate of the Korean War) to call a truce.


It was decided that protectors of goodness would be called the Night Watch and the purveyors of evil would be called Day Watch. Both sides play by a long list of rules, typical of old soviet style bureaucracy, including licensing of vampires by Night Watch. Like the The Devils Advocate members of Day Watch are not allowed to force humans to the dark side. Humans must be allowed to choose evil of their own feel will.


Enter Anton (Konstantin Khabensky), a young man and one of the good ‘others. Anton is  the protagonist in Night Watch. He’s like Anakin in Star Wars. The Dark Side wants to win him over early in the film by promising to return the love of his life to him. The love of his life is pregnant by another man she ran away with. The Dark Side has also convinced Anton his ex-love will abort the baby if only he will submit to the power of the Dark Side. At a pivotal moment in the incantation members of Night Watch bust in the room and stop the curse and Anton’s fall from grace.


This sets up the moral dilemma that follows by referencing a religious prophecy made in the prologue about the arrival of ‘The One’ who will break the truce and decide whether good or evil shall triumph. Prophecy also includes a depressing doom and gloom woman unwittingly kills everything she touches. 


Eventually, all the principal players end up at a supernatural vortex centered in a high rise apartment building in Moscow waiting for the apocalypse. One cannot help recalling the Ghost central high rise New York City in the movie Ghost Busters.


Night Watch is really a fusion of many films including Van Helsing, Dracula,Ghost Busters, Buffy the Vanpire Slayer and Star Wars to name a few. And that ultimately may explain why it’s hard to follow. Night Watch tries to be too many things at once. Maybe the already released sequel called Day Watch is less burdened and less apt to get lost in translation. I hope so. Night Watch for all its faults is proof that Russian cinema has taken a great leap forward and has a bright future.



Mark's Movie Meter

General Audiences: C+

Russian made vampire horror film with impressive CGI special effects, grisly battle scenes and bloody cocktails. Fleeting nudity. Campy flick for the foreign film buffs

Family Audiences:

Not appropriate for children.Rated R for strong violence, disturbing images and language (albeit in subtitles).



























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