By Graham Rae | March 6, 2006

From Russia with love comes a new take on a cinematically dead entity – the vampire. “Night Watch” (the first in a planned trilogy) ignores the normal vampire stereotypes, like garlic and crucifixes, and starts fresh with a whole new set of rules. That isn’t to say this is a straight up horror film though, in fact, it’s not really horror at all. It’s more of an action-fantasy film with only minimal scare attempts.

Taking place in modern day Moscow, a unique group of humans (called “Others”) possessing certain paranormal psychic abilities are divided into two forces – the light and the dark. Long ago, a battle raged between these two factions until an agreement was made and a truce was formulated. The dark group roams around only at night as vampires while the light group (dubbed Night Watch) spends most of their time policing them.

Among the members of the Night Watch is Anton, who recently suffers from visions of a young child being scooped up and sucked dry by some darkies, which totally breaks their century old agreement. He is assigned the task of locating this boy to prevent him from harm. In typical trilogy fashion, this boy may be more than meets the eye, and this power may bring the apocalypse.

“Night Watch” is full to the brim with cleverly executed special effects merged with uniquely concocted story elements that films like “Underworld” never attempt. The most intriguing idea here is a sequence involving one of Anton’s visions. He enters a place they call “The Gloom” which is, from what I gather anyway, the dimension where his visions take place. Even more interesting is a pair of shape-shifting characters discussing their power in great detail but getting the most minimal screen time of anyone in the entire film.

Perhaps that it was the filmmaker wanted. I haven’t read the book this film is based on, so I can’t say if that’s how it was or if that was an element left out of the film intentionally. Maybe director Timur Bekmambetov chose to not lay out all the cards on the table right away. Whereas giving just a taste of something this unique may have been a good idea in another, more complete film, it ends up being frustrating here. The discussion between the shape-shifters is constructed as if it was leading somewhere but in this film, it never does.

When you watch a film that was the first part of a planned trilogy (like “Fellowship of the Ring” for instance), you can usually find a beginning, middle and end. “Night Watch” isn’t that kind of a start.

It’s hard to fully appreciate this film without knowing where the rest of the story is going to end up. So many fascinating concepts are discussed, even introduced in some cases, though they are never focused on enough to give the viewer a complete understanding. There is a lot of buildup throughout the entire piece that’s never released. The climax is almost laughable and when the credits finally role, you’ll no doubt find yourself yearning for more, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. Though it takes many steps in the right direction, it never quite reaches the destination of greatness it so desperately strives for.

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