Embarrassed by the breakdown in relations between the British and Russian governments? Day Watch might just provide an opportunity to show some sort of solidarity with ordinary Russians. For it is that rarest of things: a Russian film with a UK distribution deal (courtesy, incongruously, of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox). Don’t imagine that means it is some grindingly slow art-house affair — rather, it’s a highly entertaining vampire/sci-fi romp set in modern-day Moscow, with a nice line in humour, some impressive special effects (that never become too intrusive) and an absolutely gorgeous and satisfyingly original visual style.
Day Watch is the sequel to Night Watch, a 2004 film which, in turn was based on the first in a trilogy of novels by author Sergei Lukyanenko. Confusingly, Day Watch is the second book in the trilogy, but the film covers events chronicled towards the end of the first book. Its basic premise, as in Night Watch, is that a fragile, centuries-long truce exists between vampires, witches and warlocks, who are allowed to come out at night, and the ordinary people to whom the days belong. Anton Gorodetsky (Khabensky) works for the Night Watch, which polices the creatures of the night — and he is also training Svetlana (Poroshina), who is the Night Watch’s Great Other — a super-powerful force for good. The trouble is that the Day Watch has a dark Great Other — none other than Anton’s son, Egor (Martynov), who is about to come of age. And should the two Great Others meet and clash, apocalypse will ensue.
Cue all sorts of mayhem generally involving the phlegmatic Anton and klutzy Svetlana, a sub-plot involving the ancient Chalk Of Fate, lots of great stunts mostly involving vehicles (such as a Mazda RX-8 driven across the vertical face of a hotel), a bit of body-swapping and an unexpected amount of humour. Day Watch never subsumes itself to special effects, preferring to concentrate on the human (and undead) element. It powerfully evokes modern Russia, and in particular the culture of set-ups, tit-for-tat actions and paranoia that still looms like a throbbing hangover from pre-Glasnost days. At times — as with all films of its genre — you have to not so much suspend disbelief as push it off a cliff, but Day Watch entertains royally all the way through and is vastly more intelligent than anything you would expect to emanate from Hollywood. The Russians, apparently, are mad for it — Night Watch outgrossed both Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Spider-Man 2 over there, and Day Watch’s 2006 Russian release raked in more than $30 million. If you derive pleasure from seeking out celluloid obscurities with real merit, then track down a showing of Day Watch forthwith.
SECOND OPINION | Neil Davey * Night Watch. That was a good film. It was bold, creative, had a great basic story — the ancient forces of Light and Dark have come to a finely balanced truce in modern day Russia — lots of wit and boundless energy. Now along comes the sequel, Day Watch, a film about... well, magic chalk. Everyone’s after the Chalk of Fate, a stick of the white stuff that allows the holder to rewrite history. Night Watch main man Anton wants it to restore the balance threatened by the arrival of two ‘Great Others’, the major players in the Light v Dark battle, one of whom just happens to be Anton’s own Day Watch supporting, sort-of-evil son, Egor.
And people drive up the outside of hotels, chase each other through a vaguely alternative dimension, have rows with the enemy, destroy civilisation and mankind as we know it and desperately chase a piece of bloody chalk. More than that? Who knows. It’s incomprehensible drivel of the highest order that not only destroys the reputation of the first instalment but manages to avoid all the things that made Night Watch such a cult classic. You want explosions and action and people morphing into beasties. Instead you get a piece of magic chalk and what feels like rival teams of admin staff having a bit of a tiff. Aside from a great finale — effects-packed but poignant and, of course, just a welcome sight after two hours or nonsense — this is best caught in DVD. When someone else is paying.