This 1994 Danish chiller remains a potent and atmospheric exercise in
unease. It was the feature debut of Ole Bornedal, and is still his
NIGHTWATCH (NATTEVAGTEN) was a massive success in its
native Denmark (although it never received much play in the US), and
marked the introduction of not only Ole Bornedal but also actor Kim
Bodina, a who went on to become a major force in Danish cinema. Ole
Bornedal followed NIGHTWATCH with such films as the mainstream epic I AM
DINA (2002) and THE
SUBSTITUTE (2007), another horror fest.
Like THE VANISHING before it (made in 1988 by German
filmmaker George Sluizer, who helmed a lesser American redo in 1993),
remade in America by its own director. That follow-up film,
starring Ewan McGregor, Nick Nolte and Patricia Arquette, appeared in
1997 and, truth be told, isnít as bad as so many critics claim it is.
Itís actually quite good, retaining much of the overpowering creepiness
of the original--which is obviously the preferable film.
College student Martin takes a job as a night watchman
in a hospital morgue. He learns the ropes from his retiring predecessor,
a creepy old dude whoís been on the job far too long. Among his duties,
Martin has to periodically patrol the area, including a double row of
A few days into his job Martin is visited by a police
inspector who informs him that a serial killer is on the loose who
scalps his victims. Martin gets a look at one of those victims, whose
cadaver happens to be interred in his place of work--Martin is seriously
freaked out, then, when one night he spots bloody footprints leading to
that very corpse, which lies spread-eagled in the morgue hallway!
It seems that the killer is afoot in the morgue,
perhaps trying to frame Martin for the murders. As to that killerís
identity, it could be the creepy police inspector or Martinís
troublemaking buddy Jens, whose activities include pretending to be a
corpse and humiliating a hooker in a fancy restaurant.
Whoever the killer is, it seems heís closing in on
Martin--and does so in the nutty climax, which involves Martin, the
police inspector, Martinís virginal girlfriend Kalinka, and Jens. Not
all of them will come out alive!
This may be Ole Bornedalís first film, but he shows a
Hitchcock-worthy knack for suspense. He also has a love of the perverse
and grotesque that lends an added dimension to an otherwise
straightforward suspensor. The filmís overall aura, befitting the morgue
setting, is morbid and forbidding, with disquieting intimations of
necrophilia and insanity that seriously turned off viewers of the US
remake (which as I recall inspired more walk-outs than nearly any other
movie Iíve seen). While there are moments of graphic nastiness (which
Bornedal now says he feels are overdone), NIGHTWATCH achieves its
effects primarily through its impeccably horrific, clinical atmosphere.
In a word, this film is chilly.
It doesnít all work, however. Bornedal spends too much
time with the protagonistís pals, possibly because one of them is played
by Kim Bodina, whoís frankly a better and more charismatic actor than
the lead performer Nikolaj Waldau. Yet the scenes with Bodina are
aimless and uninvolving, and a definite contrast to much of the rest of
the film, which is tight and methodical.
Iím also nonplussed by the fact that the narrative,
particularly in the third act, isnít always plausible. I guess thatís a
casualty of dark thrillers like this one, although Bornedal at least
provides many thrilling and macabre elements (a sex scene amid rows of
corpses, a crawl through broken glass) that hold oneís attention.
Director: Ole Bornedal
Producer: Michael Obel
Screenplay: Ole Bornedal
Cinematography: Dan Laustsen
Editing: Camilla Skousen
Cast: Nikolaj Waldau, Sofie Graaboel, Kim Bodina, Lotte Andersen, Ulf
Pilgaard, Stig Hoffmeyer, Gyrd Loefquist, Rikke Louise Andersson, Niels