Beyond the Slimy Wall: Nightwatch
By Stephanie Star Smith
December 21, 2006
We here at BOP are an eclectic group, and our tastes in movies run from the serious cinephiles to the foreign-film aficionados to niche film lovers. Thus was born the idea for this weekly column, devoted to horror films of all shapes and sizes, but concentrating on those B- and C-grade films that mainstream reviewers disdain, but are the bread-and-butter of every spook-movie lover's viewing. So come with me as we venture Beyond the Slimy Wall, uncovering the treasures - and burying the time-wasting bombs - that await those who dare to love the scare.
If there's one sub-genre that is a difficult-to-navigate minefield for spook movie fans, it's the art-house horror film. All too often, art-house filmmakers concentrate too much on the artsy-fartsy elements that are de rigueur in the field and give short shrift to the essential components of the horror genre. That is, when they're not ignoring them completely, of course. So it is always with a great deal of trepidation that I undertake to view any art-house horror flicks recommended to me by the cineastes of my acquaintance. Such was my frame of mind upon settling down to view Nightwatch, the latest fave of those members of the art-house crowd who proclaim a (perhaps too refined) taste for horror films.
I am happy to report that I needn't have had such misgivings, because Nightwatch is good. It's very good; so good, in fact, that one forgets its highbrow credentials very quickly and instead enjoys the very scary, E-ticket ride.
Now this is not to say that Nightwatch isn't a bit of an odd duck, and it seems to relish its somewhat labyrinthine script. But that very circuitousness also lies at the heart of what makes Nightwatch such an enjoyable and entertaining horror film; and the filmmakers seek to disquiet and discombobulate the audience as much as they work at keeping their artsy-fartsy elements on display. And fortunately for the audience, Ole Bornedal - who was responsible for the Danish version of this film - seems to care more for the scare than the highbrow, and the film benefits greatly from this.
Nightwatch centers around two couples: Martin (Ewan McGregor) and Katherine (Patricia Arquette), and James (Josh Brolin) and Marie (Lauren Graham). The men have been friends for some time; and their friendship is an odd one, to say the least. James loves to live life on the edge, and he seems to delight in tormenting Martin, embarrassing him as much as possible at every opportunity. James also doesn't treat Marie very well, ignoring her opinions and concerns in favor of his male-bonding and strange mind games. The opening credits roll over the pair of couples celebrating Martin's birthday at their local watering hole, whilst an apparent press conference with Detective Cray (Nick Nolte), the lead investigator on a local serial murder case plays on an unseen TV in the background. It's during the party that we learn Martin has just landed a job at the local morgue as the night attendant - which would give us the title, were it not for the aforementioned Danish film, the title of which translates to English as same - and he starts the next night.