April, 1998: Nightwatch

The original, Danish, version of this movie, Nattevagten, was released four years prior to the remake and is regarded as the superior attempt at a horror/thriller– at least that’s what the internet thinks. In the end, the 1998 version ends up being a cheap emulation of a film that is three years its senior, David Fincher’s Se7en.

Where Se7en succeeds, Nightwatch utterly fails.

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True to its name, Nightwatch follows the story of Martin (played by Ewan McGregor). Martin is in the throes of law school and finds a new job as a nightwatchman in a local morgue. It’s clear from the start that things are slightly off-kilter as the start of this job also marks the beginning of a murder investigation into the death of a prostitute that is transferred to the same morgue.

As Martin slips slowly into madness, prodded by his friend James (played by Josh Brolin), evidence begins to mount against him as his friends and co-workers turn against him. As more and more pieces fall into place, it is evident that someone is setting him up.

This film would be a total loss if it weren’t for the first thirty minutes. It’s clear that the director, Ole Bornedal, has a knack for establishing atmosphere. In particular, a scene where Martin is sitting in his booth, studying, while his reflection stares back at him through a window in front of him, waiting for something to strike, is suspenseful and important to the character’s development.

Aside from the first act and some inventive cinematography, there isn’t much this film does right. It reveals its mystery far too early and loses all momentum before its climax.

Matt: Watch it for the atmosphere
Gabe: Don't watch

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January, 1998: Phantoms

Before Armageddon, before Dogma, before Changing Lanes, after… Goodwill Hunting? There was Phantoms. Why Ben Affleck took this inexplicable step backwards, I’ll never know; maybe he thought it would be good, maybe it was for the money, maybe he was already filming before Good Will Hunting was released.

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Phantoms is loosely based on a popular study from the early nineties: that flatworms were able to ingest other, ground-up flatworms and could inherit their memories and experiences. In this particular instance, they were able to solve a maze more quickly if they ate one of their kin. This script takes that hypothesis, adds some demons, and runs wild with it.

We open in a sleepy, winter town where two sisters, Lisa (Rose McGowan) and Jennifer (Joanna Going), plan to settle down for a while; mainly to get Lisa away from her abusive boyfriend in Los Angeles. What they find is an empty town and some putrefied, dead bodies.

When they try to find help, they run into some local law enforcement in Bryce (Ben Affleck) and Stu (Liev Schreiber). Shortly after, things go south and Stu is claimed by whatever has taken over the town. Timothy Flyte (Peter O’Toole) is recruited by the FBI to join in on the fun and explains that demons have been terrorizing the town and have been growing in strength for centuries because, when they consume people, sometimes entire armies, they learn what they fear and use that to claim more lives.

Naturally, there is a mysteriously helpful serum that Bryce uses to vanquish the monster once and for all, dispatching the threat for good.

Phantoms’ weaknesses are numerous and are equivalent, but not limited to: script, acting, sound design, and cinematography. It’s a flat movie with uninspiring performances and a coherent, but unimaginative plot, and many scenes will burst your ear drums if you aren’t careful. It’s hard to recommend even for some laughs with friends– there are much, much better bad movies for that.

Matt's rating: Don't watch
Gabe's rating: Watch once if you like this sort of thing

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