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Nightwatch

Starring Ewan McGregor, Josh Brolin, Patricia Arquette and Nick Nolte
Written by Steven Soderbergh
Directed by Ole Bornedal
Website: www.dimensionfilms.com

Those of you that have been reading these Crankyisms for a while know that I really could care less about horror/scary genre flicks. Once in a while, I'll drag myself into one of 'em, but that's few and far between. Y'all know what I do. I send Trent Haaga in to do the dirty work. He loves this stuff . . .

Being Cranky's Official Sidekick, it's my sworn duty to fill in when he gets sick. It ain't easy, folks, but somebody's gotta do it!

The new Dimension Films thriller, Nightwatch, is actually an English-language remake of one of the most successful Danish films of all time - Nattevagten. When I say "remake" I mean it - both versions were written and directed by the same guy.

Martin Bells (Ewan McGregor doing a pretty authentic-sounding American accent) is a young law student who gets a job as a night watchman in a morgue. What seems like the perfect opportunity - getting paid to sit on your ass and read books all night - quickly becomes a living nightmare when a serial killer begins to terrorize the city. As if having to be around the dead bodies of a serial killer's victims isn't enough, someone is slowly putting the pieces together to frame young Martin for the murders. Is it his slightly loopy and jaded buddy James (Josh "I look like Craig Scheffer's brother" Brolin)? The philosophical detective investigating the murders (Nick Nolte)? The prescription drug-swilling Doctor (Brad Dourif, who most resembles a certified lunatic)? Or maybe even Martin's quiet fiancee Katherine (Patricia Arquette)? To give away any more would ruin the mystery and tension that makes Nightwatch ten times more effective than your average slasher flick.

Nightwatch is, first and foremost, an exercise of style and mood. From the squirm-inducing opening murder to the extended climax, every frame drips with subtle menace. I was very much reminded of an Italian "giallo" thriller by the likes of Dario Argento or Mario Bava (if you're at all familiar with these film makers, you'll know that this is high praise indeed). The city morgue is a creepy enough location already. It becomes a place of palpable, unrelenting dread under Bornedal's sure hand.

Unlike most Dimension product, Nightwatch doesn't temper the horror with witty one-liners or audience-directed winks and nods. This is an intense little whodunnit that takes no prisoners. While the bodycount and blood quotient of Nightwatch is a mere fraction of what either Scream film had, it's a case of quality vs. quantity. The two onscreen murders are more unsettling than disgusting. The viewer isn't "shocked" into being scared as much as they are slowly dragged into a state of uncomfortable fear. Also to director Ornedal's credit, the tension mounts, rather than decreases, when the audience learns the killer's identity a full thirty minutes before the end of the film! The extended climax is very well-done, leaving serious doubts as to the final outcome (and making armpits sweat - my t-shirt needed to be wrung out at the end of this one).

Now don't get me wrong. Nightwatch didn't change my life or anything. Like the "giallo" films that it seems to reference, Nightwatch does occasionally sacrifice narrative logic and/or character development in order to provide the chills. But this film isn't about character and plot. It's about being scary. A lot of the older reviewers that I screened Nightwatch with seemed too not like it, citing that it was "too disturbing". This is the exact reason that I enjoyed Nightwatch. It fulfills its primary objective - to be disturbing and creepy - with skill and finesse. Hey, I'm a sucker for a decent, serious-minded horror flick. If being scared isn't your bag, you might want to avoid it

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for Nightwatch, he would have paid . . .

$6.00

Had I paid to see Nightwatch, I would have been wholly satisfied. And in my world, there aren't any $8.00 movies. So if you prefer your scares straight up with no comedic chaser, Nightwatch is the flick you've been waiting for.


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