In Derp Blog Into Darkness, I take a plunge into the deep with movies I’ve never seen or (in some cases) even heard of, with the only common thread throughout being that they were purchased by my partner in the years after the break with her religious upbringing. This gives me a range from mainstream comfort food to more daring, “rebellious” stuff.
In 2005 I saw Timur Bekmambetov’s NIGHT WATCH in a Belgian theater. I greatly disliked it and found it to be showy and pretentious, eschewing narrative clarity for an overload of visual pomp. Upon finding that Ella had both NIGHT WATCH and its sequel DAY WATCH in her collection, it became one of the movies I was most looking forward to discover. Was I right to dismiss it as an oh-so-mature 20 year old, or have my views (and viewing habits) changed so drastically as to do a complete 180 on this Russian vampire saga?
DAY WATCH follows Anton Gorodetsky, a member of the NIGHT WATCH – a supernatural police force who monitors the Dark Ones. The Day Watch, meanwhile, is another supernatural police force who monitors the Warriors of Light. They must maintain the truce that both factions signed centuries ago, or else face the consequences of the Inquisition (a creepy set of old man twins of ill-defined but great power).
In the first movie, Anton got recruited by the Night Watch as a regular guy to police Dark Ones. Unfortunately, his little son Yegor joined the Dark Ones by the end of that movie – even worse, he became a Great Dark One, a one-in-a-million super powerful example of the breed.
At the start of DAY WATCH, Anton and rookie Svetlana are investigating the attempted murder of an innocent human by some ski-masked ruffian. This turns out to be vampire* kid Yegor, and big boss Dark One Zevulon wants to throw the heat off of his faction by framing Anton for another murder.
Oh wait, back up. The movie REALLY starts with a flashback to medieval times and motherfucking TAMERLANE trying to get at a magic chalk locked up in some Asian fortress. THE CHALK OF FATE! Little did I know at that point that this scene would nicely encapsulates the pros and cons of this movie. On the positive side: Who would have expected a fucking Tamerlane opening where he storms a Persian fortress for a piece of magic chalk? The movie constantly throws these crazy curveballs at you that I’d honestly never see coming. I dozed off twice, and one time I woke up to a Ferrari driving up a skyscraper and the second time Anton had switched bodies with his colleague Olga. But yeah, to go back to Tamerlane for a second there: Tamerlane is trying to find a way into the magic maze to retrieve the magic chalk, but all who ventured within were never seen again. As he is cursing over the map, he accidentally pokes through it… which gives him an idea! He simply commands his armies to bust through the walls. He very cinematically takes lead of the charge and just runs his horse through what seems to be a solid stone wall. Now, the movie hadn’t been going on for very long, so I’m sure I didn’t miss Tamerlane having any magical powers or anything, so… what the fuck? He just ran that horse through a stone wall! And there you have it – the crazy shit is all well and good, but there’s just so much of it, and they throw you in the deep end quite mercilessly, that you’re not sure if it’s part of the wacky world of [x]WATCH or if it’s just a very loose approach to logic.
My experience with DAY WATCH was exponentially better than the one I had with NIGHT WATCH, as I could find a more balanced view of things (seeing it for free probably helped). I wouldn’t come right out and recommend the series, as I still find it a bit humorless and dour. For a movie that has Moscow destroyed by killer yoyos and vampires who remotely suck you dry through magical juiceboxes (!), very few smiles are cracked. I’m guessing this is a cultural thing, as the WATCH series is extremely popular in Russia, and a lot of stuff is just lost in translation.
All in all, I found DAY WATCH a positive experience, for its value as an oddity in the genre world, and as witness to my personal growth as a film watcher.
*I’m pretttty sure Yegor is a vampire. There’s witches and shapeshifters and god knows what else in this movie but they all just look like poor, down-trodden Russians so every scene is a surprise.