Nightwatch (1994)

Rating: B

Dir: Ole Bornedal
Star: Nikolaj Coster Waldau, Kim Bodnia, Sofie Gråbøl, Ulf Pilgaard
a.k.a. Nattevagten

Martin (Waldau) gets a new job as the overnight guard at the morgue – after initially being creeped out, he realizes it gives him his nights free to continue his law studies. He has a loving girlfriend, Kalinka (Gråbøl), but his friend Jens (Bodnia) is a wild-card, who convinces Martin to agree to a bet. Whoever refuses a challenge first has to get married. Initially, it’s just dumb stuff like tacking smack to thugs in a bar, but Jens escalates things by bringing in street hooker, Joyce, to their game. Meanwhile, a serial killer is scalping prostitutes, with the victims being brought to Martin’s morgue, by Inspector Wormer (Pilgaard), who is investigating the case.

One of Joyce’s friends was the killer’s last victim, and it gradually becomes clear that the psycho is closing in on both Martin and Joyce, with the aim of framing the former for the killing the latter. Martin’s mental stability is also tested by strange events at work, with bodies apparently getting up and wandering about during his shift. Can he keep his sanity long rnough to find out who is behind the killings? We largely dug this one out because of Gråbøl’s presence, having loved her in Forbrydelsen; this is a very different role, with her more the victim here (and it’s curious to see her blonde!).

That aside, this has stood the test of time well: it’s meticulously-scripted and engrossing, with the revelations rarely feeling like there’s a cheat to get there. Things do go somewhat off the rails in the finale, where the killer, Martin and Kalinka inevitably end up roaming the morgue in search of each other, and I can’t say the first named’s behavior there makes a lot of sense. However, this is a relatively minor glitch, since by this stage, the characters have already pulled you in to being interested in their actions and motives. I can see why Hollywood pounced for a remake; while I haven’t seen it, I suspect it might be hard-pushed to find room for improvement.

[Original review: TC 18] News of the death of the horror movie seems not to have reached Denmark, going by this stylish and intelligent tale. A law student gets a part-time job at the morgue, only to find creepy things are happening; is his mind going? To add to his troubles, there’s a serial killer in town, who seems to be out to frame him. This does a slow but careful job on the set-up with the first half being so totally restrained I wondered where the “horror” tag came from. The second half delivers the groceries there, and good performances from a young cast help give this more believability than most teenagers-in-peril films. Even if it never breaks any genre boundaries, you shouldn’t feel short-changed. B+

Not to be confused with the remake of the same title, also directed by Bornedal, but starring Ewan Mcgregor, or with Night Watch, the first entry in the Russian fantasy series.