Review Date: February 10, 2002
Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Release date: 5/29/2001
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
Martin Bork (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
) is a young Copenhagen law student who has just landed a rather gruesome job. Yup, Martin is the new night watchman at the city morgue! On the night he is set to start work, Martin shows up and meets the outgoing night watchman (Gyrd Lofqvist
), a kooky old man who seems very glad to be getting out of the place, although he won't elaborate on his reasons. He shows Martin the rounds he will have to make, and some rather disgusting sights as well. Martin promptly gets to work, and although he is a little bit nervous and lonely at first, he gets used to it after a few days and starts to settle into the job.
Martin attends law school with his best friend Jens Arnkiel (Kim Bodnia
). Jens is immature for his age and usually doesn't take things too seriously. As a result, Martin isn't too surprised when one day in class Jens suggests that for the next two weeks they forget all the limits that they've imposed upon themselves. They will offer each other challenges, and whoever's the first to refuse or fail at one loses. If Martin loses he has to marry his girlfriend Kalinka (Sofie Gråbol
), and if Jens loses he has to marry his girlfriend Lotte (Lotte Andersen
). That night, after the two go out drinking with their girlfriends, Jens tells Martin something shocking. A few days earlier he met a 17 year-old prostitute named Joyce at a bust stop and he slept with her. Jens gives Martin a challenge: do it with Joyce too. Martin agrees and Jens tells him they'll take her out that weekend.
Meanwhile, as all this has been happening in Martin's life, a vicious serial killer has been terrorizing Copenhagen, killing many prostitutes. Martin becomes involved in the mystery when, one night at work, his boring routine is interrupted by the arrival of Peter Wörmer (Ulf Pilgaard
), a homicide detective who tells him that the killer has just struck again and they are about to bring the body in. The victim is another prostitute. Wörmer confides in Martin that the police are absolutely positive it was the same psycho. He has a trademark that has never been made public: he scalps his victims!
That Saturday night, Jens and Martin take Joyce (Rikke Louise Andersson
) out to a restaurant. Jens proceeds to taunt Joyce, doing things like offering her money to smile for him and say "I love you." She eventually gets upset and storms out. Martin is more than happy to forget the whole ordeal, but Kalinka finds out about it and they get in a fight. Martin shows up for work that night to find cops all over the morgue, and people looking at him like he was some sort of sicko. As it turns out, the night before, while Martin was on duty, the body of one of the psycho's victims was molested right there in the morgue. Now everybody thinks he did it, and some even think he might actually be involved in the killings. Martin thinks someone might be attempting to frame him. Trying to get to the bottom of the whole mess, Wörmer asks him if anyone might have a grudge against him, or if he's had any romantic entanglements. Martin tells him about what happened with Joyce, and Wörmer makes a realization: perhaps the killer knows the police are closing in on him and is trying to pin the crimes on someone else. Since he travels in the same social circles as Joyce, he may have found out about Martin through her involvement with him and Jens, and has decided to frame Martin for his crimes. Joyce is about to killed, and Martin will be blamed!
Using a more realistic, down-to-earth approach to its serial killer plot, Nightwatch
can be extremely effective and unsettling. The plot is rather slow to build, but once it kicks into first gear the suspense builds quite rapidly. Many viewers will probably be on the edge of their seats by the time the film's climax - set in the morgue as the characters must fight for their lives against the killer - comes around. The acting all around is pretty good, although Kim Bodnia and Ulf Pilgaard as Jens and Inspector Wörmer are especially good. Pilgaard is so stern and intense that I was a bit surprised to learn from this disc's commentary track with writer-director Ole Bornedal that he is actually one of Denmark's top comedians! However, Nightwatch
is flawed by a few story gaffes. The plot takes so long to get moving that the film seems to lose direction at times. A good example of this would be an unimportant early scene where Jens sneaks into the morgue one night to play a joke on Martin by pulling an alarm designed to be used by someone if they are in a cataleptic state and wake up in the morgue. The scene is both funny and scary, although it also seems like Bornedal was searching for something to fill up screen time when he put it in the script.
A few years after the film was released, Miramax produced an American remake starring Ewan McGregor as Martin, Patricia Arquette as his girlfriend, Josh Brolin as his best friend, and Nick Nolte in the Inspector Wörmer role. Despite being directed by Ole Bornedal again, and filmed using virtually the same script (story flaws and all), the remake turned out to be inferior to the original film and its release was delayed until 1998 because of various problems with the studio. When compared to the original, the remake is not only less graphic, but less suspenseful and exciting as well, with some rather mediocre performances (several of the leads in the new film almost look like they're sleepwalking through their parts). This original Danish version is by far the preferred version of the story, and as long as you don't mind watching a movie in a foreign language, it is well worth your trouble to view.
Anchor Bay has given Nightwatch
a presentation letterboxed at 1.85:1 and enhanced for 16x9 TVs. Overall the transfer is very good. The image is usually quite sharp and the elements are very free of damage, with only a few specks and blemishes noticeable. The transfer generally has a good color balance, although there is some bleed. The film's color scheme does not feature many truly vibrant hues, but what vivid colors there are there are captured nicely. However, there are some minor problems with the transfer that cost it a few points. A thin yet noticeable layer of grain can be seen in a large number of shots, while a number of night scenes also have a very murky quality to them. Compression is not a problem, but edge enhancement pops up here and there. But overall another good job from Anchor Bay, one that's getting a solid B.
is presented in it's original Danish language with new Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 Surround tracks, and with optional English subtitles. Most of the film is dialogue-driven rather than action-driven, and although its soundtrack features many intense moments, there are also many times when subtle effects (like the sound of fluttering moths trapped inside a light bulb) play a big part. The tracks are well-balanced and do not disappoint in either area. There was no distortion or background noise to be detected.
The biggest extra here is an audio commentary with director Ole Bornedal. Mr. Bornedal has an easy time expressing himself in English despite his thick accent. He spends most of the track analyzing his use of sound effects, lighting and photography, and explaining why he thinks it works or doesn't. He gives a little production info, and also explains how this version is different from the American version. He's very interesting to listen to, but unfortunately he's only a sporadic speaker, leaving many, many quiet spots in the commentary, some of which last a couple of minutes.
The only other extra is the original Danish theatrical trailer.
The original Danish version of Nightwatch
is a quality thriller that is effective and far superior to its Hollywood remake. Previously, it was difficult for American viewers to see it, but this has all been corrected by Anchor Bay's efforts. My only real complaint is that this disc's supplemental material isn't that hot, with only a trailer and a mediocre commentary track, but aside from that this is a very good release.
Movie – B
Image Quality – B
Sound – B+
Supplements – C+
- Running Time - 1 hour 47 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- 26 Chapter Stops
- Danish Dolby 5.1 Surround
- Danish Dolby 2.0 Surround
- Optional English subtitles
- Audio commentary with writer-director Ole Bornedal
- Theatrical trailer