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[Review]: Nightwatch (1994)

Celebrating thirty years since its initial release in 1994, the Danish language film Nightwatch (1994), directed by Danish filmmaker Ole Bornedal is an intense depiction of a man's gradual descent into a surreal madness. Nightwatch touches on dark taboos, the cruelty and depravity of human nature, as well the ease of which a person’s mind can devolve into neurosis and irrationality. 

Part crime thriller, part psychological horror, Nightwatch stars a pre-Game of Thrones Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Martin, a law student who takes up a job of a night watchman in the local medical forensic institute. On induction day, Martin is warned by his predecessor of how the morgue can affect people, and once on his rounds, the sight of the bodies leads Martin to get some serious chills. Parallel to this, the city of Copenhagen is plagued by a series of grotesque and violent murders of young women, and as Martin and his friend Lotte (Lotte Anderson) become embroiled in irresponsible tom-foolery, Martin ends up being implemented in the homicides, leading him to become a prime suspect.

Whilst the crime mystery half of the film is firmly within the realm of Scandi-crime, the horror element tends to get lost within this slowburn. Nightwatch tediously skirts around the edges of the supernatural and the psychological, almost with a fear of leaning fully into its more darker undertones of both the twisted psychology of a necrophiliac serial killer and the unravelling mind of its main character Martin. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Martin is, however, laddishly charming and utterly believable as a young man struggling to retain his naive masculine bravado as he teeters along the brink of insanity. 

Dark and broody, Nightwatch is the epitome of a European style of 90s grunge film, that offers a certain element of timelessness especially as it explores the themes of crimes against the marginalised, as well as the detrimental outcomes of  “boys will be boys” attitudes, although unfortunately the film is littered with homophobic and racial slurs, dating it incredibly. 

Nightwatch is now available to stream on Shudder

3 Screams out of 5


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