After sitting on the shelf for nearly two years, Ole Bornedal’s remake of his Danish film, Nattevagten, finally hits the screens. It’s too bad it wasn’t worth waiting for…
Martin Bells (Ewan McGregor) is a struggling law student who finds the perfect job. It’s quiet, gives him plenty of time to study, and there’s not much difficult work involved. The downside: it’s at the local morgue, where he’ll be the new night watchman.
The film begins with a whirlwind tour of the facilities, where we know every detail so meticulously pointed out will obviously be of use later in the film. As it is, when a local serial killer begins to fill the place with his victims, and plays mind games with Martin.
And, of course, everyone’s a suspect. The police assume Martin is the murderer, so we can cross him off the list. But there’s Martin’s creepy friend James (Josh Brolin), his semi-creepy girlfriend Katherine (Patricia Arquette), the creepy doctor (Brad Dourif), and the creepy police inspector (Nick Nolte).
Director Bornedal does manage to create an appropriately eerie atmosphere at the morgue. In fact, it seems unfortunate that the mundane serial killer plot has to force its way in and ruin the otherworldly atmosphere.
The “serial killer on the loose” plot is nothing we haven’t seen before. Perhaps when the film was originally made the last remaining ember of freshness still glowed in that particular fire, but the years in-between have long since extinguished it. Nightwatch doesn’t have anything besides its setting to breathe it life, and that just doesn’t quite do it.
Ewan McGregor is amiable as the lead (although he’s strangely ineffectual in the film’s climax). The film certainly doesn’t stretch his range as an actor, however. Nolte is appropriately gruff as the police investigator (though what’s with that haircut?). But actually the standout in the cast is Josh Brolin as Martin’s thrill-seeking friend.
In the end, the film’s implausibilities outweigh any benefit the eerie moodiness of the setting. We’re left with a very typical serial killer mystery, and not a terribly good one.