Day Watch (DVD)

Here 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 copy of Day Watch (the DVD director's cut features an extra 8 minutes of footage) forthwith.

EXTRAS * Very disappointing — just a "making of" featurette and theatrical trailer.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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