Review: Day Watch
"Feelings....nothing more than...feelings...."
Day Watch is the second installment of the story of the ancient battle between the forces of Good and Evil, and I for one think that it's high time that someone made a trilogy of films about this often overlooked subject. For too long, filmmakers have ignored this essential conflict and Day Watch comes as a welcome corrective to the glut of movies about genocide, corruption and lady problems that clog the theaters. One can never know too much about the political history of Magickal Wampyres in these troubled times. Yeah, although the premise seems to have been done to death, Timur Bekmambetov's Day Watch manages to feel refreshing and original, though at times (delightfully) inexplicable.
So there are two groups of super-powered "Others", the Light and Dark ones, and one guess as to which are the good and which are the evil. For some reason the opposing forces are not indiscriminately slaughtering each other but instead have delegated certain members of their parties as "Watches," who enforce a Byzantine scheme of passports and permits that make up the ancient Truce. The good guy Watch, the Night Watch, ride around Moscow in customized disco utility trucks acting as kind of a CSI: Bloodsucking Victims Unit, but they have a tougher job - it's particularly hard to secure a crime scene when it's partially located in Second Level Gloom, as I don't believe 3M has bothered to manufacture Gloom-spanning plastic tape for that purpose.
Day Watch begins as the Truce is being threatened by the unprecedented emergence of not only a Great Dark Other (who happens to be the spurned child of the vodka-sodden good vampire main character) and a Great Light Other (who is your stereotypical blonde Russian bombshell, and in love with the vodka-sodden good vampire main character) but also a mystical writing implement with the Tenacious D-worthy name "The Chalk of Fate," that has the power to re-write history, if you stay after school and write what you want to change 100 times on the blackboard.
Right here is the major flaw of the film - it's so front-loaded with exposition and thoroughly odd concepts (the aforementioned Second Level Gloom, flashlights that kill, the name Zavulon) that a significant portion of the audience is going to be turned off or confused right away. Couple that with the fact that after the narrated re-cap of the first film concludes, there's no more English in the film except the kind that you have to, you know, read, it was no wonder that the two rows of people in front of me abandoned ship 20 minutes in, even after having been treated to an ancient warrior dude riding his effing horse right through the walls of a Persian fortress/maze in an advanced example of bad-ass problem-solving acumen.
Which is a shame because there's a lot to recommend about Day Watch, including those dastardly sub-titles. Like in the first film of the series, the sub-titles move, fade, change color, explode, bounce, but in such a restrained manner that it hardly seems like showing off. It is amazing to me that this hasn't carried over into foreign film distribution in general, as it's very effective and engaging.
The rest of the film's design is impeccable as well, with the special effects/CGI in particular being artfully integrated into the action instead of fully supplanting it, as in for instance the woosh-smash-spin-motion-sickness fest that is Spider-man 3. The sets are beautiful in a baroque way, with nearly every location, including the interiors of trucks, limos and airplanes, hung with mirrored shards or other fetishes and wallpapered with bizarre flocked designs. The Moscow setting is exploited much more so than in the first movie, with the kitschy Kosmos Hotel being a central location, and other monuments serving as target practice. It's a blast to see a city besides New York or Neo-Tokyo get totally knocked the fuck up, particularly when the engine of destruction is the tinfoil, vampiric version of a cluster bomb. Such are the delights of Day Watch, and I recommend you savor the disco vampire called The Parrot, the weird squeaky half-spider doll, and the gratuitous Freaky Friday psychic body-swapping sequence that ends up in a lesbian Irish Spring commercial, as there's probably no more silly or strange action/adventure film to be released this summer.