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  • Rev Horror


Dir. Ole Bornedal (1994)

A law student takes a job as a night watchman at a morgue to make ends meet, where he finds himself in a cat and mouse game with a serial killer.

I had heard of this movie years and years ago, but I never particularly had the desire to see it because I thought it was about vampires (and I'm not particular into vampire movies). When I saw that it was coming, along with a sequel, to Shudder, I decided to give it a try anyway, delighted to find out that it is not, in fact, about vampires. Instead, what I got was a fantastic neo-noir thriller that explored the relationship between sex and death, a Dutch film that plumbed the depths of the human psyche and delivered a story that was almost as compelling as some of the best in the genre.

Martin (Game of Thrones' Nicolaj Coster-Waldau) has recently taken a job as a night watchman at the local morgue, trying to pay the bills as he puts himself through law school while living with his girlfriend Kalinka (Sofie Gråbøl). His sociopathic friend Jens (Kim Bodnia) challenges him to a game in which they must do whatever the other dares them to do, which quickly degrades to Martin spending time with a prostitute named Joyce (Rikke Louise Anderson). A serial killer is stalking the city, however, targeting prostitutes, putting Joyce, Martin, and everyone around them in grave danger. Martin quickly finds himself in another game, this time with the man who seeks to frame him for the murders of the women (and really fuck up his potential law career).

Nightwatch is a fantastic film, filled with outstanding cinematography and some truly tense and terrifying moments. It's become a bit of a cult classic in the Dutch horror community, and while it certainly falls more into the category of a noir or a mystery/thriller, it definitely has some horrifying moments that make it a great addition to the Shudder lineup. The lonely hours inside a morgue make for fantastic cinema, and the ratcheting tension is handled to perfection by director Ole Bornedal, who also helmed the (allegedly terrible) American remake of the film with the same title. Scandinavian horror has a certain sensibility to is, much like their German neighbors to the South, and the nihilistic and psychological additions to the noir genre work amazingly well in a film like this.

The actors do a great job, most notably Coster-Waldau and Bodnia. They're both fundamentally unlikeable characters, though Martin's shortcomings come mostly as he goes along with his deranged friend's plans. Both men are in loving relationships, drawn to the abyss of terrible decisions because they feel trapped by their chosen circumstances, but that doesn't excuse their horrendous decision-making skills. You can't help but feel bad for their girlfriends, but even though their actions may be reprehensible, there is a certain "boys will be boys" mentality that runs throughout the film and serves to provide a commentary on these interworking relationships and the struggles of being tied down for the rest of your life. Granted, they could have chosen a better way of going about it, but then we wouldn't have this phenomenal serial killer drama to watch. So yay!

Nightwatch is for sure a slow burn, but it's the best kind: it's taut throughout, paced fantastically well despite very little happening through a lot of its runtime, and it has a ton of scenes that are very scary if you're able to put yourself into the position of the characters. It's also fairly disturbing, especially one scene in which Jens is berating their hired hooker at a restaurant dinner table. It's cringe-worthy, and it really helps underline how these seemingly normal people are not good people, with even the relatively benign Martin laughing along as the girl is humiliated. It's a fantastic scene, and one that could easily be a character study on sociopathy and degradation.

All in all, Nightwatch is a movie that has found its share of fans for good reason. It's a fantastic story, very well done along the lines of a Hitchcock or Fincher. It goes to some pretty dark places, and it's never afraid of toeing the line between horror and bad taste. The score works perfectly with the film, elevating at moments when it needs to and lulling the audience into a false sense of security when the tension is about to elevate yet again. If you haven't heard of this film, I definitely recommend looking into it when it comes to Shudder on May 17th.

Who this movie is for: Neo-noir fans, Thriller aficionados, Lonely coroners

Bottom line: Nightwatch is a fantastic film, well worth checking out for anyone that enjoys noir-ish thrillers. The acting is fantastic, the cinematography is on point, and it's a Hitchcockian mystery that's full of twists and turns. I highly recommend giving it a watch when it comes to Shudder May 17th, when you can watch this cult favorite along with its anticipated sequel, Nightwatch: Demons are Forever.

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