An ancient war between Light and Dark? Cool. Supernatural beings like vampires and shape-shifters secretly existing alongside our modern society? Way cool! A moody Russian movie with subtitles? Hang on… OK, it’s not as dreary as it sounds. This little Russian movie has gained hype over the fact that it was a mega-huge blockbuster in its homeland, outselling Spider-man 2 at the box office. But what do you get in a Russian vampire movie? Well, there are some obvious influences such as The Matrix (dark, dreary world as thinly-veiled playground for semi-legendary beings; both sides questing for an apocalyptic “One”) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (vampires and other supernaturals strutting about under the unsuspecting noses of the general public; curses and evil powers thwarted from their destructive climax by a rag-tag band of heroes). In fact, the homage to Buffy is so strong that there is even a tribute when one of the characters watches a scene from the show on the TV. Alas, the many influences are the main problem with this film.
The story centres on Anton, a man who is part of the Night Watch, a group of supernatural humans who chose to work for the Light in protecting the world from the forces of the Dark, enforcing a truce between the two sides. His time is spent trying to save a woman from a powerful curse, and protecting a boy from a couple of vampires (by the way, the boy might be the legendary Great Other, and also the son of Anton’s ex-wife). There are tons of story elements that are dropped in without explanation and along with numerous action sequences and special effects, it’s a very busy movie. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be enough time to get to know even Anton (let alone the supporting characters). I can imagine this story taking place over a whole season of TV episodes—in fact it kind of did. Back to Buffy, Night Watch has so many echoes to that series (and its spin-off Angel) that it seems a bit derivative and old hat. Maybe the Russian audience has not had as much exposure to this kind of stuff on TV. While Night Watch is full of cool effects and the potential for lots of interesting fantasy elements, it all ends up coming across as a not-so-cheap knockoff of some good stuff that’s already out there. (3 out of 5)