Saturday 18 May 2024

Shudder Saturday: Nightwatch (1994)

I remember Nightwatch being quite highly praised when it was released. A Danish thriller from writer-director Ole Bornedal, it was a film that I soon felt I had to see. So I did. I saw it many years ago, and I saw the 1997 remake (also directed by Bornedal, but with Ewan McGregor in the lead role). I remember quite enjoying both versions of the tale, but nothing remained in my memory decades later. Rewatching this film now, it's understandable.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau plays a law student named Martin. Martin gets a job as a night watchman as the Forensic Medical Institute, where one of his main duties is checking on the morgue. That morgue is about to gain a number of new residents as a serial killer stalks the streets of Copenhagen, but that doesn't really bother Martin, who is often busy distracting himself with an escalating game of dares that he and his friend, Jens (Kim Bodnia), are engaged in. It does start to bother him, however, when strange things start happening in the morgue, and when the victims of the killer start to show evidence that could incriminate Martin.

Although it's a decent enough little thriller, arguably a little more macabre than most, it's hard to watch Nightwatch nowadays and figure out how it gained such a solid reputation when it was first released. No one element disappoints, and the casting is a big plus, but it feels as if it's a slim, and surprisingly dull, plot padded around a couple of decent set-pieces. The grand finale is decent, and finally adds some genuine tension, but it also seems a bit ridiculous (even in relation to other slick thrillers in this vein).

Coster-Waldau makes for an appealing lead, and Bodnia is a lot of fun as the friend who keeps getting him in trouble with escalating dares and pranks, but I wish the likes of Sofie Gråbøl, Lotte Anderson, and Ulf Pilgaard had been given better material to work with, especially when two of those people are much more heavily involved in the third act. Rikke Louise Andersson is a highlight, in the role of Joyce, but her involvement with the two leading men feels like it could have been spun off into a very different, and potentially more interesting, movie.

Don't get me wrong though, I certainly didn't hate this. It's a decent and dark thriller. It's just a film that always seems to pick the least interesting direction when so many scenes provide a crossroads for the narrative. Maybe I had my viewing experience this time around impacted by that first viewing many years ago, but I wasn't ever fully invested in the characters, I didn't sense any ambiguity when it came to the potential killer, and it really dropped the ball when it came to delivering on the potential of the central premise.

Good, but not great, and I'm surprised to find that it has maintained enough of a legacy that we now, three decades later, have a sequel, also written and directed by Bornedal. I guess you already know what I will be watching at this time next week though.


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1 comment:

  1. That was the secret origin of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, or the first full-length movie he was in. It was still another 15 years before Game of Thrones made him if not a household name at least a familiar face.