There's a moment in Night Watch in which bad guy Zavulon (Viktor Verzhbitsky) pulls out his own spine and turns it into a sword. After sitting through this film, you'll be nagged by the feeling that he's used those vertebrae to tenderise your fragile brain. Whip-fast, bonkers and sometimes completely incomprehensible, Timur Bekmambetov's stylish riff on vampire mythology plays like a two-fingered stab to the eyeballs of the stodgy bloodsucking fare we've had to suffer for years. Underworld and Van Helsing? Fangs, but no fangs...
Labelling Night Watch a mere vampire movie, however, is rather like calling Fight Club a documentary on soap-making. A frantic mix of batty camerawork, psychotic set-pieces and lots and lots of crows (for no obviously determinable reason), this is the story of Anton (Konstantin Khabensky), a human gifted with special powers and known as an "Other". As part of the Night Watch, he is charged with keeping in line the forces of darkness. In return, the bad guys keep an eye on the good guys during the Day Watch. It's a balance of power which has lasted more than a thousand years, as explained in the sub-Lord Of The Rings prologue, which shows two armies facing off in a battle that's supposed to look epic but sadly comes off more like a fat bloke in dodgy armour scowling at an ugly bloke in dodgy armour.
Still, you have to bear in mind Night Watch was made for a paltry $4 million in its native Russia. A blockbuster by their standards, it then went on to break box-office records. ("It's the first horror/fantasy movie in Russia," points out Bekmambetov in one of three short, repetitive featurettes. "Nobody wanted to see scary movies because we have such a scary past.") Since its initial release in 2004 the film has taken a worldwide gross of more than $33 million and its sequel, Day Watch, has received a rapturous reception in its homeland (the UK release date is to be confirmed). Dusk Watch, the final part of the trilogy - based on the books by Sergei Lukyanenko - is slated for release next year.
It's actually better to view Night Watch in the knowledge that it's the first part of a trilogy rather than a stand-alone puzzle-fest; that way its unanswered questions aren't so frustrating. It also helps that the language barrier is eased as its subtitles cleverly become part of the action, turning different colours and popping up all over the screen - a million miles better than the dubbed version you can also find on this two-disc release, in which Anton sounds suspiciously like Rocky Balboa.
"It is a challenge to produce something unique," explains Bekmambetov. He's done a top job with this - a film as visionary as it is insane.