Night-watch and Daywatch

Digital special effects have gotten dirt cheap in the last 7-10 years, and the result has been locally produced foreign films with modern special effects, throughout the world. There have been many amazing FX films from Korea, Japan, and even some interesting ones from Thailand and Poland.

Nigh*censored*ch (and its sequel, Daywatch) are Russian films that will amaze you with interesting special effects and fresh concepts. They aren’t without flaw, but are still worth seeing.

These films are…VERY Russian. The hero is a shlub who makes bad decisions and regrets them. The city is dreary and snowbound. It’s hard to tell good guys from bad. and the first film ends in disaster for the good guys.

Spoilers follow!

In modern Russia, the forces of Light and Darkness observe a tense and bureaucratic truce. Both sides are humans, though with supernatural powers (and vampires on the dark side), who must freely choose which side they join. The hero, Anton Gorodetsky, starts the film with a profoundly bad act. His pregnant wife has left him for another, so he hires a matronly witch to 1) lure her back, and 2) force a miscarriage. The light side intervenes, and he and the witch are convicted of attempted murder. This awakens his own powers, and he chooses the light side, presumably to work off his guilt.

As the boy grows, Anton becomes a powerful warrior for Light, working at (literally) the Light Company. He helps new "Others" choose the light, arrests those who break the Laws of the Truce, and issues licenses to vampires, who are an oppressed and resentful underclass. Meanwhile Satan (or his head representative, it’s hard to tell) calculates the final battle using a video game that looks a lot like Dead or Alive PS1, but isn’t.

Anton finds his son, realizes the relationship, and falls into Satan’s trap. During the final battle, Satan dodges Anton’s knife, and the boy is almost stabbed, but Satan grabs Anton’s hand at the last moment. Thus the boy (a super-powered Other) chooses the Dark side, and the first film is over.

Daywatch, the second film, starts almost immediately. Anton is involved with a new Light Side recruit, a blonde woman as powerful as Anton’s son. Satan is of course plotting to destroy them both, so Anton is accused of a murder, and most of the film is filled with cat-and-mouse with his pursuers. Anton decides that a mcguffin, the Chalk of Fate, has the power to undo the terrible choice he made in the beginning, and both sides chase after it. After finding it in plain sight, he looses it to his sneaky son, and regains it in the film’s climactic battle. In the end, he succeeds in writing "Nyet" on the wall of the old witch’s original apartment, thus changing everything for the better, instantly. End of film.

So, the overall lesson of the story is this: If you make a terrible mistake in your life, you’ll never get past it or make amends, your only hope is to go back in time and erase it. Dismal, like much of the movies’ settings. For these films, it’s the journey, not the destination.

The fresh take on vampires is a standout for me, although it’s not the focus of the films. In this story, vampires can turn invisible, and can then ONLY be seen in a mirror. Vampires are regulated by the government, and a major sub-story is the poor butcher and his teenage son which live across the hall from Anton. Both are vampires, and while the father loves his son and bows his head to his second-class life, the son rages against it and tries to Fight the Power, while remaining one of the purest spirits in the story (certainly more likable than Anton). Eventually he gets caught up in an affair with Satan’s devilish, devil-may-care wife, to the detriment of all of them.

The light side drives around in large, yellow utility trucks, outfitted with startling (and obviously magical) enhancements. Their headquarters is the city’s power company, as soviet, grimy and bulky as the vehicles. Their leader is old, pragmatic, and world-weary. Their magical powers are always unique and surprising (and wierd, unless you’re Russian, I suppose).

Many of the special FX are set pieces, with a clear focus. I can imagine the writers sitting around, saying "What if a speeding trolley hits the bad guy, and it bounces off?", "What if Satan yanked his own spine out, and it became his sword?" and "What if a magical car drives around on the side of a building?"

So. Unusual vampires? Check. Magically enhanced vehicles? Check. Sympathetic magic? Check. Unsympathetic hero? Check. Deus Ex Machina ending? Check. It’s not everyone’s cup of vodka, but I recommend you rent these movies.

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