“Why does the wind blow? To cover our tracks, so no one knows we’re still alive…”
In the lore of Day Watch it is prophesied that when night is longer than day, a new ‘Great Other’ will come and sink the world into darkness. Only the Chalk of Fate will save humanity, an object which can re-write one’s mistakes of the past, giving its possessor the ability to alter his or her own destiny. Or so it seems…
For those who have not seen Night Watch, please beware, as spoilers follow.
When we last saw our hero, Anton, he was standing by as his son, Yegor, chose the side of Dark over the side of Light. Anton had earlier attempted to make a pact with the Dark to ensure his son was killed in the womb to get back at his meddling wife. This, of course, was unsuccessful, and Anton was thrust into the secret world of the Light and Dark Others – choosing Light as the side to lay his allegiance. Yegor’s decision to join the Dark came upon learning of his father’s failed pact to kill him. This film picks up one year after these events.
Day Watch comes with a heavy burden which the sophomore installment of any film trilogy suffers. It is a tough balance of character development and plot exposition, while keeping enough of the style of the original to maintain the interest of the viewer. This film has all this in spades, and is actually a far more character-driven story than its predecessor. Not that this makes much of a difference, because while it is a very enjoyable piece of popcorn cinema, it suffers from much of the same shortcomings that Night Watch exhibited. The effects are aplenty and the visual style is unique, but the plot seems less significant than we are supposed to believe and is often too hollow to rise to its own perceived epic status.
The film centers on an impending conflict between the Dark and the Light, mainly due to the provocations of the Dark Others, who wish to see this conflict through to its end. The long-standing truce is in danger of being broken. Anton is framed for the murder of two Dark Others, and is thrust into a battle of allegiances between his girlfriend, Svetlana, and his son, Yegor, both of whom are quickly becoming Great Others on opposing sides of the struggle. If they meet as ‘Greats,’ then the prophecy will come true and the world will be plunged into darkness. Only the Chalk of Fate can alter these events. With Anton stuck in the middle and fighting for the truce and his life, it is up to him to find the chalk and change the destiny he created with his dark pact in the beginning of Night Watch.
Unnervingly confusing and often too broad a story to really condense into a cohesive narrative, Day Watch feels as empty as a movie of this scale can. The look is often astonishing, and the effects are as unique as its predecessor – make no mistake about it. But, while Night was almost too simple for the complicated visual effects, Day suffers the opposite. There is so much happening, and so much happening unnecessarily, that the complications and plot twists are hard to grasp. All the ‘big bangs’ are then down-sized, feeling less extraordinary than I think we are supposed to believe. Events unfold and then when they are over, I was left wondering where the ‘oomph’ was and why I wasn’t feeling exhilarated or entirely wrapped up in the story.
What really got to me eventually, though, was the story’s unwillingness to explain a number of the two films’ key plot points. Not that I am asking for much, in that I expect a certain amount to be left to the viewers’ imaginations, but it would certainly be nice to clear up some of the confusion. I admit to being frustrated on a number of levels in regards to say, The Gloom or what a ‘Great Other’ actually was, as neither seemed particularly special to me but were obviously integral elements to the film. The third part, Dusk Watch, is purportedly a prequel to these two films, so hopefully things will become clearer upon its release.
That’s not to say that the film is lacking in entertainment value or intelligence, as this is far from the truth. There is a morality weaved throughout the film, one that I didn’t really notice in Night, that is the cohesive glue of the movie and wraps the story up cleverly in the end sequences. This theme is embodied by the concept of destiny. The Chalk of Fate is a mechanism for the characters to test this. Can a person change their own fate? Is there a ‘pre-destination’ for all of us? If we can go back and change something, will this alter that pre-destination, or merely the journey? There are a few other hints at this underlying theme as well, especially when Anton switches bodies with a female to try and escape those implicating him in the murders. Do you think anyone can tell it is still Anton? Can we escape our destinies by hiding from them? I’ll leave that for you to see. It isn’t necessarily delving deep into the human psyche, but this plotline is handled expertly, and adds a nice touch of humanity to an otherwise conventional fantasy story.
I really liked Night Watch, and although less so, Day Watch as well. There is a certain fascination in seeing movies of this type coming from outside of the dominant film world. It’s a fairy tale with a unique Russian perspective, and often is a refreshing and entertaining watch. I have a feeling that the novels upon which these are based are exceptional works, but unfortunately the folklore which we are given seems loose and confusing in motion picture format. Something is lost in translation, and the epic-fantasy scope of the narrative itself often appears lifeless amidst the barrage of blistering special effects.