Timur Bekmambetov's trilogy of vampires, witches and curses existing in modern Russia begins nicely with this gem - Nochnoy Dozor (English title 'Night Watch'). It has proven to be one of the most successful Russian films of recent years and has divided audiences.
The story begins with an ancient and bloody war between the forces of good and evil. These warring factions come to a peaceful arrangement, laying down a sort of vampire Magna Carta. This being the roots of the present situation which has urban vampires and witches that are policed and kept on a register by the Night Watch (who are invisible to normal people and look like tv repair men). Biting necks and practising black magic is thereby a breach of the vampire/witch's agreement, but of course those buggers won't abide by simple laws. The first scene is breathtaking, a man in a grotty council estate attempting to solicit the services of a witch so he can have his wife back. This scene is unforgettable, the rest of the film doesn't actually better it. But there is still plenty to admire through out, such as the ancient prophecy that slowly unfolds as the film descends to its traumatic ending.
The vampires are very nice, too. A vast improvement to the 90s Hollywood output such as the bloodsuckers of John Carpenter's Vampires or the Forsaken. Neither being particularly scary or original. These Russian vamps are gritty and dirty like drug-dealers thirsting for their next hit of blood. The vampires are quite pitiful at times. One newly converted girl ends up a helpless scavenger in a negligee, trailing the nights with an unbearable hunger. There is another chap called 'the hairdresser' who wields a pair of scissors while he's attacking his victims.
The main hero is a very ordinary man with big flaws, who's also coming to terms with his newly acquired vampirism. He seems to be one of the Night Watch's main agents and they have him team up with a stuffed owl that turns into a real owl and then into a girl!!! There is plenty of moulting in the bath, feathers everywhere. This is a bizarre film but always watchable. There are lots of lovely touches like the buzzing flies that appear whenever the Night Watch are close by.
It clearly travels the road of commercialised cinema, employing the visual stylings of music videos, The Matrix and Fight Club. But something unique courses through this film's veins, an aspect of realism. The witches live in council estates, the vampires are into designer labels. There is a painful sense of addiction to the blood-drinking scenes. The film is rooted in contemporary Russian culture, in the same way Balabanov's Brother was. All of these vampire plot shenanigans are also meant to be symbolic of modern Russia and its social ills. Don't ask me to explain it, but there's definitely something going on between the lines.
The one problem I had was the climax, it did not quite pack the punch it intended. There is also a misjudged insertion of a video-game GAME OVER scene at a crucial dramatic point which frankly looks ridiculous. All of this is forgivable, judging by the abundance of ideas, style and tension that came before it.
Night Watch is a bizarre English-subtitled Russian horror... but watch it for five minutes and you will be hooked. The film works hard to play with the rules of a tired genre and comes up trumps. Vampires being oppressed by an ancient legal system - now that's original. Similar themed flicks like The Creed are not even in the same league. There's a sequel come out soon too, 'Day Watch'. Overall, Night Watch is a touch of class (with the odd crap bit thrown in), it's easily destined to be a cult classic.