I love this film. I really do. Not just because I want to be a cool drunk Russian vampire. Honest! In what else but Russian Cyrillic could mere shopping lists look like Soviet propaganda? But I digress…
Set in modern Russia, a stygian world where sleazy capitalism meets weighty Muscovite tradition, the centuries-old squabble between the conveniently named forces of ‘Light’ and ‘Dark’ reawakens when their uneasy truce is threatened by the arrival of ‘The One’ who can lead one side to victory. The race is then on to seduce this small, gifted boy to either faction. In a more Western film such material could appear cliché, but here its apparent simplicity is diligently handled and the story swiftly muddies.
These bloodsuckers aren’t Eastern European aristos, or Nosferatu-types, but are rather personified in the overworked, overtired and permanently drunk ‘Light’ seer Vladimir, (Konstantin Khabensky) working for the Night Watch ensuring innocents aren’t led astray. He dwells in a world where vampires may find friendship on the other side but loyalties are carefully guarded. And he achieves this complete with aviator goggles, an owl-woman sidekick and a truck on nitro. A hero deliberately bereft of hubris, suaveness and style, but compensating in street smarts, powerful comrades and desperate bravery he’s the antithesis of sometimes-contemporary Maxim Stirlitz (often dismissed as ‘the Russian Bond’).
By first-time film director Timur Bekmambetov, Night Watch is the first of a trilogy (based on the books of Sergei Lukyanenko) and clearly demonstrates Bekmambetov’s background in commercials. There are delightfully humourous product placements without even the pretext of subtlety. Real inspiration is apparent in the unique and clever captions, which appear, precipitate, dissolve and play around on the screen. Sadly though, like Matrix cinematography, this technique could quickly become hackneyed. Boro accurately conveys a foreboding sense of death, danger, intrigue and the depressing urgency of a tiresome, unceasing cause, where apparent enemies collude to gamble with the lives of their followers and humanity itself. Soon, all causes and extremes blur into a morass of immorality and lost hope.
Featuring a Byzantine mythological backdrop, pagan legend and delicately-named characters like ‘The Virgin’ and ‘The One’, the film penultimately becomes difficult to follow, with problems of consistency and a thickening plot that raises many questions, but I’m certain all will be revealed in time. And despite some moments of cheesy sentimentalism, the simple charm shines through. Such a film is sure to become a cult classic.
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov