The Good: Moments toward the end have some decent acting/sense of pace
The Bad: Terrible storyline, Generally bad acting, Worthless characters, No real DVD bonuses
The Basics: A terrible film that deserves not to be seen by anyone is immortalized on DVD and one wonders why.
Since it was first released on DVD, I've had a request in at the library for an interlibrary loan for Nightwatch. I have been so very eager to see the Russian fantasy/science fiction epic which opens a trilogy of films that some are calling one of the essential films to see for the genre. So, when I checked my account online and saw Nightwatch was in for me, I rushed over to the library to pick it up.
Imagine, if you can, my disappointment when instead of finding Nightwatch the foreign science fiction epic (reviewed here!), I discovered the thin disc of a horror film that had escaped my notice in the first run sitting there. My heart sank and I took it thinking that I might as well review it. I've been trying to not appear as as much of a crank as my review count might make me appear. But as I debated between a one and two rating on this Nightwatch, I thought, "It's stupid to rate this higher than it deserves just for a sense of balance . . ." And in all seriousness, this is a film that ought to be avoided.
Martin Bells is putting himself through college and to afford that, he works nights at the local morgue. The morgue is quiet and unsettling and when Martin is not there, he's paling around with his best friend, a chauvinistic jerk named James, or in bed with his girlfriend, Katherine. Conveniently, there is a serial killer on the loose and Martin's morgue is where the bodies from that set of killings end up. When someone plays a prank with one of the stiffs, Martin's credibility around the place is compromised and while he lets James talk him into some ridiculousness with a prostitute, he finds himself being investigated for the murders in town.
And by the time this film is even remotely good, it is so far past the point where one cares that it is a challenge to muster up the enthusiasm to write even this review about it. On the plot front, it's a ridiculously simple movie. Man is living in a town where there's a serial killer killing women, he begins questionable relationships with women who are not his steady, dependable girlfriend, he ends up accused of being the killer, a pawn in the real killer's plan. It's like Dimension film's standard script.
Actually, that might be the best way to take this film; it's the standard Dimension Films horror flick, utilizing a few recognizable performers . . . poorly. There's the pretty standard bits of T&A and blood as well as a cameo by a horror genre regular, in this case Brad Dourif, whose appearance is only slightly more substantive than his stint in Pulse. But the truth is, it is the typicality of this film that makes it so pathetic. There is never a single moment in the film where one suspects that Martin might actually be guilty of killing people. His friend, James, on the other hand . . .
. . . but even that, with such a limited number of characters to choose from, the list of suspects is pretty small. And when the killer is revealed there is no real surprise (especially based upon the obviousness of his first appearance next to the protagonist). Indeed, all one needs to do to guess the killer is stay awake long enough to see whose first appearance is accompanied by the greatest attempt at shock.
It's that kind of film.
Sadly, this could not be more true and it is not a joke. Nightwatch telegraphs the emotions, telling the viewer "this is scary! be scared!" as opposed to building a genuinely frightening set of circumstances or mood. The score overwhelms any moment that could have been subtle or interesting and replaces it with the feeling of "you should be feeling this right now." As a result, the camera work is lazy, the editing is boring and there is no genuine sense of fear created.
The truly abysmal aspect of Nightwatch is the characters. Not a single one of them is likable (though there is one near the very end who becomes tolerable) and if one is looking for a film where women are treated well, this is not one of them. For sure, part of the point of the film is that women are being killed and not being treated kindly whatwith being prostitutes and all, but the problem with the film is that the two primary non-prostitute women, Katherine and Marie, are treated just as badly. Despite being the dates of Martin and James, the closest James and Marie get to anything is childish bickering. There is no chemistry between Katherine and Martin.
Because of that, one supposes the writer and director, Ole Bornedal, thought viewers would buy just how easy it is for James to talk Martin in to spending time with a prostitute. Martin, who we are supposed to believe is in training to be a lawyer, seems fairly dim and he simply goes along with James setting him up with a prostitute to get a handjob from in a fancy restaurant . . . because . . . ?! Yeah, we're just supposed to accept that. Martin is dull and depressing to watch and there are moments in the movie where one feels genuinely hopeful that he might turn out to be the killer just so he might have a personality. Or that he would be killed just to get him off screen. He never seems remotely like a guy worth crawling through glass to save the life of.
The only remotely interesting character in Nightwatch is James and he's a misogynistic jerk whose tenure on screen is painful to watch given the inherent cruelty of his personality. James treats the prostitute whose services her purchases for Martin in a subhuman fashion for his own amusement and this makes him interesting and disturbing to watch. For sure, it's not entertainment and it is a poor substitute for creating a character of substance, but in a pinch, it'll work and James at least gives the viewer something to squirm about. He's a privileged brat and the real mystery on the character front is why a square like Martin hangs around him and why Marie doesn't kill him.
James is played with a flat creepiness by Josh Brolin who brings nothing to the role that isn't in the script. There is a coldness to his performance that makes the character seem constantly bored and there are moments Brolin himself seems bored by the job. Sadly, he might be the best performance in the flick.
In fact, the real crime of Nightwatch is not the series of murders, it is that great actors were subjected to performing in this movie. My heart leaped when I saw Lauren Graham in the opening credits because I love her work as the star of Gilmore Girls (reviewed here!). Graham is woefully underused as Marie and it's sad to see her subjected to this role. John C. Reilly takes a pass on being credited at all in this movie and it's hard to blame him.
Nick Nolte appears in his pretty standard fashion without giving anything that the viewer has not already seen if they've seen him in anything else. Similarly, Patricia Arquette's only moments of decent acting come so long after the viewer has stopped caring that I almost missed it. The truth is, in the last ten minutes of Nightwatch, Arquette gives a decent portrayal of a terrified woman, but until then she plays her dull role with blandness and . . . I've run out of synonyms for "boredom."
Ewan McGregor plays Martin and one wonders why he bothered. I have to assume that between Trainspotting and Star Wars: Episode I, McGregor lost a significant bet and rather than go into debt with loan sharks, he phoned in this performance for the cash. McGregor lacks his trademark charisma and spunk and there's not a moment on screen where he is interesting to watch or makes us care about his character.
On DVD, Nightwatch has trailers. That's it. Fortunately. I would have hated to sit through anything else for the purpose of this review. If you've never heard of Nightwatch, there's a reason. It's absolutely terrible drecht and it is not worth your time, effort or attention. It's not worth the DVD pressing that will make it virtually eternal and available for the collective unconscious. Hopefully, this falls into the most unreachable places of that. It's where it belongs.
For other works with Brad Dourif, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Return Of The King
The Two Towers
"Beyond The Sea"
One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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