Saturday, 30 January 2016

Gloom & doom

Here’s a slightly edited review taken from my 'Blood Spectrum' column in #3 of Black Static magazine.

Night Watch (aka: Nochnoy dozor, 2004) started a new brand of occult horrors, based upon novels by Sergei Lukyanenko (whose Twilight Watch was published in English by William Heinemann), and was heralded as the first Russian fantasy blockbuster. Timur Bekmambetov’s wonderful sequel, Day Watch (aka: Dnevnoy dozor, 2006) continues a fascinating tale of supernatural warfare hampered by Kafkaesque bureaucracy, and shows how the fragile truce between forces of light and darkness is broken by the fulfilment of a prophecy. ‘Gloom’ is the sideways reality of invisibility, or detection, where dust or bugs drain the very life from unwary visitors on both sides of the shadowy conflict.

Repressed vampires, formidable witches, shape-changing characters, and world-weary immortals - of wilfully undefined yet clearly prodigious abilities - struggle to exert a moral authority or commit sundry acts of mischief. The legendary ‘chalk of fate’ is a clever macguffin by which troubled hero Anton (Konstantin Khabensky) may quite literally write-right all wrongs, and thus save the world. There’s gender body-swap farce (with perhaps the most hilarious faux-lesbian/ hetero-romantic shower scene ever filmed?), featuring the comedy talents of Galina Tyunina as wry sorceress Olga. Zavulon and Geser (archetypal ‘big guns’ of this good against evil premise) both receive story-arc development of their previously established supporting characters, and all your day/ night watch favourites, team-players and loners, re-appear here, even if they are relegated to sideshow duties.

More take-no-prisoners antics by Alice (striking Zhanna Friske) provide thrilling CGI action, and while new visual effects sequences preserve the previous film’s murky affect, eschewing the acute realism of Hollywood for a whimsically impressionistic style, the contrast with an urban grittiness (Russian street life and office politics) actually benefits the typically earnest drama. If the ‘strange boy’ plotline (and the curious happy ending!) marks this potential epic as formulaic populist tripe, it really doesn’t matter. Startling or inspired cinematic moments worth seeing and savouring, and plenty of clever myth building, make this foreign movie superior entertainment, even if all these watchmen fail to deliver the same pure comic-book fun as Guillermo del Toro and Mike Mignola’s more engaging BPRD agents in Hellboy.

Also reviewed in Black Static #3:
Highlander: The Source
House Of The Dead
House Of The Dead II: Dead Aim
Undead Or Alive
Doctor Strange (Marvel animation)
Dominion: Prequel To The Exorcist
Wrong Turn 2: Dead End
Slaughterhouse Of The Rising Sun
Rise: Blood Hunter
The Last Legion

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