Russian cinema could not have returned with a greater bang. Largely dormant since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian film industry received a huge goose of credibility with Night Watch, a relentlessly stylish vampire movie that proves that the vampire genre has not yet been sucked dry. But Timur Bekmambetov's film is not cutting edge merely for its music video kinetics; it boasts such a revolutionary concept for subtitle design, Russian audiences ought to rent the English DVD release just to get the full viewing experience. Impressively, the subtitles are treated as an active pictorial element in the gothic proceedings, as the English words sometimes appear typed out in bursts with the dialogue, other times dissolve into smoke, or quiver with a disturbance in the soundtrack. It all adds to an enthralling vampire story that's simple enough not to confuse most audiences, but enough of a labyrinth to please viewers thirsting for mythology. Bekmambetov's world posits an uneasy truce between daywalking and nightwalking vampires, imagining their age-old rivalry as naturally evolving into a modern-day bureaucratic impasse. This is an excellent jumping off point to witness the unraveling of that agreement, with vampires moving in and out of a middle plane of existence called "the gloom," ready to pounce. The exquisite details of the Night Watch world are too many to enumerate, but they include prophecies, shape shifters, telepathic mind control, large flocks of birds, swooping cameras, quick edits, and all the blood dripping from chins you could want. The film's effectiveness is all the more unlikely given the climate at the time of its release, when vampire movies had bombarded multiplexes like the 21st century's answer to Quentin Tarantino ripoffs. That Night Watch accomplishes what it does under such unique circumstances is a testament to its singularity.
by Derek Armstrong review