Nightwatch A Creepy and Twisted Little Gem
By Kristin Battestella
I don’t remember exactly how I stumbled upon the 1997 morgue fest Nightwatch. It was probably late at night and I must have been alone, for it scared the crap out of me!
Law student Martin Bells (Ewan McGregor) is hired as the over night security guard at a morgue- much to his girlfriend Katherine’s (Patricia Arquette) chagrin. Martin’s best friend James (Josh Brolin), however, couldn’t be more amused, and he uses the freaky and morbid aspects of Martin’s job to cause trouble and tease young prostitutes when he’s supposed to be taking the next step with his girlfriend Marie (Lauren Graham). Unfortunately, a series of sick and brutal killings lead Inspector Thomas Cray (Nick Nolte) and his deputy Bill Davis (John C. Reilly) to the morgue- and all their evidence points to Martin.
Morgues, serial killers, necrophilia- Director Ole Bornedal (I am Dina) has all kinds of juicy and freaky to toy with in this his own remake of 1994’s Nattevagten. The atmosphere starts on the creepy early and keeps the suspense tight with dark scenery and chilling isolation. Even with some humor, fun naughty, and a touch of coming of age tossed into the spooky, there’s plenty of real world fear to match- marriage issues, fear of life after college, losing buddies over dames. It all helps to keep the characters believable even if some of the story’s cracks show. Indeed, there are a few flaws in the plot and pacing- careful viewers might suspect or solve the criminal twists pretty quickly- and the scares really only work on the first virgin viewing. Having said that, there are still plenty unique and morbid thrills, joys in spotting the clues, and jump in your seat delights here for repeat viewings.
Even as Obi Wan Kenobi in the three Star Wars prequels, it seems Ewan McGregor never plays the same character twice, and his effortless style makes it quite easy to get behind our naïve and unassured college hipster Martin. We’ve all been there- wanting to have fun while trying to also take life head on and being torn between wants and obligations. McGregor balances the seriousness smartly with the fun and kinky- in large part also thanks to his onscreen pal, Josh Brolin. Brolin (No Country for Old Men) is quite a creep in Nightwatch, poking fun at the morgue, disrespecting the dead, and speculating on the nasty crimes taking place. We want to like him, but he’s looking for thrills and excess in all the wrong places and taking Martin down with him. It’s not an easy part to play, but we feel for him and thus put out the sympathy because Brolin keeps the honesty and torment real. Nick Nolte (Affliction) is also juicy good fun as the slightly askew Inspector on the case, and John C. Reilly (Boogie Nights) is also a treat as his quirky deputy.
I haven’t really seen enough of either lady to make a true assessment, but I do know Patricia Arquette (Medium) is a little annoying as Martin’s girlfriend Katherine. This is a horror movie, we need to have opposing chicks or damsels in distress- and that is largely the roles Arquette and Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls) play. They are okay, I suppose, but the scenes without them are better. Nightwatch is not meant to be a chick flick. In fact, due to the twisted nature of the crimes at hand, some aspects are even a little sexist- the use and abuse of prostitutes, feminine subservience, and marriages being anti freedom talk don’t help the ladies shine here. Fortunately, Brad Dourif (Lord of the Rings) is always cool and fittingly freaky as a feisty nighttime mortician.
Thankfully, mood and atmosphere also add a wonderfully scary layer to the film. Yes, the ideas of solitary, dark morgues are bad enough, but Nightwatch looks scary, with lots of tricks, smoke and mirrors, creepy things in jars- all the little things that go a long way in establishing a real world, natural spooky. The audience is prepped and tingly for violent action sequences, real scares, silly scares, sexy humor, and sex disturbia yet its all mere deceptions, only hints of sex and blood. Despite all the nasty matters at hand, we only actually see some brief nudity, pre and post naughty, or implied twistedness and gore. The sick implications of what we think has happened gets us all psyched out- leaving Nightwatch in our minds long after the viewing.
Suffice to say, Nightwatch is not really for family audiences, and it may even gross out some hardened adults thanks to the necrophilia implications and other ill subject matter. Fans of the cast, however, can certainly enjoy, along with mystery or suspense lovers and subtle horror viewers alike. But of course, there are several varying DVD versions and director’s editions for completists to research, and purists may still prefer the original Danish production. Thankfully, you can find some low price copies or rental options and get your freak on with Nightwatch any time of year.