Reviews

Day Watch (DVD)

Now available on DVD

Cast:

Konstantin Khabensky as Anton

Mariya Poroshina as Svetlana

Vladimir Menshov as Geser

Galina Tyunina as Olga

Viktor Verzhbitsky as Zavulon

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov

Movie:

In any attempt at epic filmmaking, be it of the horror variety (a rare occurrence, and perhaps rightfully so, given the intimacy necessary for most horror films to be effective) or otherwise, there is one risk that outranks all others – that of losing an audience with an overcomplicated storyline. The Russian blockbuster “Night Watch” took that risk with its complex tale of the centuries-old feud between light and dark supernatural forces living among us and the bureaucratic snarl in which they are tangled, a gamble that’s further embraced by the film’s sequel, “Day Watch” – which, though encumbered by the same confounded plotting and overstated visual flash as its predecessor, does manage to kick some apocalyptic horror ass.

Out on DVD in the states from Fox Searchlight following a brief art-house theatrical run, “Day Watch” seems mired in its own mythology right from the start. The film opens with a prologue in which we are introduced to the Chalk of Fate, an enchanted charm that grants the user the ability to fulfill any wish and alter time. From here we jump to the present, some time after the foreboding events that closed “Night Watch.” The balance of power between the forces of light and dark leans increasingly heavier toward the favor of the Dark Ones as young Yegor grows closer to assuming the cataclysmic power he is prophesized to inherit on his sixteenth birthday. Yegor’s father, Anton, the saga’s lead, continues to monitor the actions of the dark beings as part of the Night Watch crew, a task that becomes even more dangerous when he is framed for murders that could threaten the 1000-year-old truce preventing a supernatural war between the two opposing sides. On the run with his protégé, Svetlana, Anton tries to reconcile with Yegor but in doing so inadvertently places the chalk in the Dark Ones’ grasp, setting up a climactic confrontation at a New Year’s Eve ball/birthday party signaling the end of the world.

Despite dazzling audiences both at home and abroad with frenetic action and pulsing effects, “Night Watch” failed to connect on any deeper level, its air of impending doom clouded by a script too cluttered with seemingly disparate story elements and a visual style rife with clichés. But while “Day Watch” is plagued by the same problems, it succeeds in delivering the epic scale only implied by the first film, and accomplishes the difficult task of enriching its characters to the point that their struggles and relationships finally take on a meaning worthy of our interest and investment. The burgeoning romance that develops between Anton and Svetlana adds much-needed resonance, originality, and, when Anton is forced to take on the guise of a fellow female Night Watcher, even humor. The rocky camaraderie Anton shares with his neighbor, a vampire butcher, also reaches fruition and helps legitimize a showdown that might otherwise sink under the weight of its own overbearing impudence.

At a time when many American horror filmmakers can’t be bothered to even come up with their own concept, let alone explore it thoroughly, it’s hard to complain about too much substance in a horror movie. But while “Day Watch” sets a good example in its unconventional depiction of ultimate good vs. its evil counterpart, the added character depth stacks yet another layer onto a story that’s already collapsing under too many disjointed subplots. It also reduces the volume of viscerally horrific sequences utilized in the first film, taking “Day Watch” more in the direction of a James Cameron/Ridley Scott opus than a bleak, gritty shocker (director/co-scriptor Bekmambetov cites the former as an influence on the film’s commentary). The film is not bereft of blood, but there’s definitely less outright carnage on display than in the first film, in spite of a third act that’s heavy on destruction.

Though it trips out of the gate and keeps running far too long, “Day Watch” improves upon its forerunner and evolves beyond expectations. Bekmambetov’s style is still a bit too aggressive for its own good, but his writing and direction have improved. Whether his film ultimately meets its lofty assertions is debatable (this is a series once touted as the “Star Wars” of horror, after all), but there is much about it that is satisfying – if not entirely scary.

Fox’s presentation of the film is satisfyingly strong, a crystal clear transfer of a visually chaotic film accompanied by a decent audio package that includes the film’s original Russian track and an English dub, as well as one in Spanish. The English subtitles are not the animated ones of the film’s theatrical release, but they get the message across. It’s only in the extras department that this disc falters.

Extras:

Director Commentary: One would never presume that director Bekmambetov is such a dynamic artist after listening to the guy talk. On this commentary track, Bekmambetov responds to the questions of an unidentified interviewer in thick mumbles possessing none of the excitement the director brings to the screen. He frequently answers questions with a single lifeless word, only elaborating when provoked further by the moderator, and what he shares does little to enhance our appreciation of the film. One comment that may elicit a reaction concerns the Russian DVD of the film, which, according to Bekmambetov, includes multi-angle viewing capability for some of the film’s more elaborate action sequences, a feature Fox has for some reason omitted from this U.S. release.

The Making of Day Watch: This 26-minute featurette, in Russian with English subs, sets out to capture the unpredictable vibe of the “Day Watch” production and dips a bit into numerous aspects of the film’s creation, but never goes in to much detail on any of them. We learn a bit of the special effects and get a few sound bytes from cast members, but the overall piece is pretty negligible.

Trailers: Comprising perhaps the most interesting aspect of the disc’s extras is an assortment of original Russian trailers and TV spots that highlight the differences (and some surprising similarities) between the ways in which the film was marketed in its homeland and the U.S. The Russian ads definitely emphasize the action/fantasy aspects of the film rather than its horror elements. Fox also includes trailers for “The Hills Have Eyes 2,” “Lake Placid 2,” “Mr. Brooks,” “Perfect Creature,” “The Trippers,” and “Wrong Turn 2.”