In the autumn of 2005, I was out on a second date with a rather lovely American guy that I'd met a month or so before. That Sunday, we'd arranged to meet for lunch – which is always a fairly safe bet for a second date, given that one can make up an afternoon engagement if one needs to escape. But lunch went well, and we went for a wander around Covent Garden, had dinner, and finally found ourselves on Shaftesbury Avenue outside the Curzon Soho. Some Russian film called Night Watch (Nochnoi Dozor) was playing, about which I knew precisely nothing, other than that the poster looked quite cool. (Although, I suspect that, at that point, I would have agreed to see anything if I thought it meant I could spend more time with my American companion.) My companion knew only that it had vampires in it.
Now, truth be told, I was focusing a little more on the physical proximity of said American – the way that he held my hand, and the way I could hide my face in his clothes if a potentially scary bit came up – than I was the film. Yet, despite the distraction, we both really enjoyed Night Watch. I was struck by the cinematography, the fabulous subtitles, and the almost incomprehensible yet still entertaining plot.
Last week, my American and I were invited to a press screening of Day Watch (Dnevnoi Dozor), the sequel to Night Watch and second film of the trilogy that will be completed by Dusk Watch (Sumerechnyi Dozor) (listed on IMDb as 'Twilight Watch'). The films are adaptations of Sergei Lukyanenko and Vladimir Vasiliev's novels, are directed by Timur Bekmambetov.
Svetlana enters the 'gloom', the netherworld into which the Dark escape from the scenes of their crimes.
So… the Earth is a battleground for the forces of Light and Darkness, who are held in check since medieval times by a truce. The night is ruled by the powers of Darkness, but the Light's Night Watch is always there to ensure that the Dark doesn't overstep the mark. Similarly, the day is ruled by the forces of the Light, but their power is constrained by the Dark's Day Watch. The Others are people who live amongst us humans, but who have supernatural powers – psychics, vampires, witches and sorcerers. And thus Light Other and the Dark Others live in a fragile harmony.
SPOILER WARNING – There might be some… that's all I'm saying.
In Night Watch, we met Anton Gorodetsky (Konstantin Khabensky), an Other who comes to the attention of the Light after hiring a witch to terminate his ex-girlfriend's pregnancy by another man and make her love him again. Just before the witch completes her spell, members of the Night Watch burst in and stop her. Twelve years later, Anton meets Svetlana (Maria Poroshina), a woman with a sort of magic vortex that brings disaster to everyone around her. And then there is the boy Yegor (aka Egor in the press materials, Dima Martynov aka Dmitri Martynov), who could become a Great Other for either side, depending on who gets to him first.
By the time we get to Day Watch, Yegor has chosen to side with the Darkness and Sveta has turned out to be the Light's Great Other. Anton has fallen in love with Sveta but is, in typical bloke-ish manner, pretending he hasn't. Moscow, meantime, remains blissfully unaware that anything's going on at all.
But things take a turn for the worse when Anton is framed by the Day Watch for murder, and has to go into hiding, swapping bodies with Olga (Galina Tyunina). Sveta and Yegor are both getting stronger as they learn how to use their powers, but we're told that they can never meet, or the ages old truce would be broken, and war resumed. The only thing that can save the world from the Armageddon that would ensue is the Chalk of Fate, which can be used to rewrite history.
END SPOILER WARNING
Day Watch is just as beautifully shot as its predecessor and is rich with glorious cinematography and CGI. It has hints of The Matrix in it, and somehow manages to meld the best of the Hollywood action thriller with an international arthouse cult sensibility, never becomes as trite and vapid as Hollywood, nor as pretentious, worthy and miserable as arthouse cinema can be. Instead, Day Watch wraps you up in its reality, immersing you in this parallel Moscow and barrelling through the streets at dizzying speed.
I really loved both Night Watch and Day Watch – they really appeal to the vampire lover in me, although there's actually very little that's vampiric about the second film. Yegor has some fun with hollow needles, and Anton gets his drink spiked with blood, but that's about it. Nonetheless, the supernatural goings on are exciting anyway, particularly the one that sees Alisa (Zhanna Friske) drive a red Mazda up the side of a building, parking it neatly through a window on, I'd guess, the 16th floor.
The plot, though, does get a bit convoluted and confusing at times. I found this with Night Watch too, that I would have sudden moments where I'd suddenly think “Eh? What just happened?”, but I had assumed that Kevin, my adorable American, had simply distracted me at a crucial moment and that I'd missed something. I was concentrating much harder in Day Watch, though, and still had moments where I wondered what on earth was going on. But the film moves fast enough that you're soon swept away again, even after the strange and incongruous Timotei ad-like sequence in the middle.
But you forgive all that for the fabulous finale. There are many ways that Armageddon could be brought about – flood, fire, earthquakes, alien invasion, killer cockroaches, rage-infected monkeys, a plague of boy bands that cause everyone who hears their insipid whinings to immediately commit suicide. The list is infinite. But I've never seen Armageddon brought on by a ________. Very, very impressive, and well worth the price of admission. (And no, I'm not going to tell you what. That really would be a spoiler!)
Again, the subtitles were a work of art. I remember being astonished at how much thought went into the subtitles for Night Watch – the text itself moves and changes colour and shape to emphasis certain words. In Day Watch, I thought that the subtitles seemed a bit more subdued than in Night Watch, but my friends told me afterwards that they weren't. Regardless, the subtitles actually add something to the film, they don't just give meaning to the Russian dialogue, they also add to the feel of the film, the style, the atmosphere.
Thus it is with horror that I see on IMDb that, because Fox Searchlight is co-financing Dusk Watch, it's going to be filmed in English. Please, don't do this to us, Fox. –ù–æ—á–?–æ–? –¥–æ–?–æ—Ä and –î–?–µ–?–?–æ–? –¥–æ–?–æ—Ä are Russian films, that's why they have Russian names, and they are better for it – the characters have more complexity and nuance than some their equivalents in the West. I mean, I love The Matrix and all, but Neo has all the depth of a puddle. Don't ruin Dusk Watch by turning it into a formulaic Hollywood piece of shit summer blockbuster. Film it in Russian, give us the subtitles, and if you must, dub it for your multiplex audience, just don't ruin it for those of us who love to see films in their original language, just as their director intended.
Indeed, in the press pack, director Timur Bekmambetov says:
‚ÄúUnlike in America, there were no fantasy movies shot in Russia before this one. But in reading the book, I suddenly realized Sergei had managed to distill magic and miracles, the transcendent and the supernatural, into our way of life. I found that the story really was something special because in it, fantasy not only meets reality ‚Äì but Russian reality ‚Äî and it‚Äôs the first Russian movie that has this unique point of view. The story takes place in the real world, in real Russian life, but it‚Äôs also fantastical.”
Dusk Watch won't feel like real Russian life, it won't take place in the real world, if everyone's speaking English.
So… the trailer! (Note: subtitles are nothing like the ones in the film itself.)
Sadly, I haven't been able to find Day Watch listed at any cinemas in the UK, and it's unclear what the release date is – some sites say it came out on 1 June, but comments on YouTube indicate it's not out til 1 October here.
The release date is 5th October, and if you like your films dark, fantastical and with a wry sense of humour, then Day Watch is a fine way to spend a couple of hours. Do make sure that you've seen Night Watch first, though – Day Watch won't entirely make sense if you haven't. If you can't find a copy, then you could do worse than read the synopsis over on Moria, (although you have to scroll down past a bunch of annoying Google ads to get to it).
Fox Searchlight have put a ton of Day Watch-related stuff up on their official site, too, with a fair few number of photos, vidoes, reviews, etc. Not an awful site, I suppose, but no blog. Dear lord, why no blog? This is the sort of cult hit that really needs a blog! Plus there's quite a bit up on YouTube, so there's plenty to keep you occupied until Day Watch hits a cinema near you.