Suspense is the key element to a good thriller and this movie is full of it. Director Ole Bornedal has obviously done his homework and knows all the buttons to push to keep a viewer on the edge of their seat. Whether it be a the use of silence for just the right amount of time to make us uncomfortable or a slow zoom on a closed door, Bornedal knows what works and relishes in making our hearts beat faster. He obviously has studied all of the techniques to elevate the mood and knows the timing of when the payoffs should occur. To top it off, the main location in the film is an empty medical building occupied by a sole watchman and a roomful of corpses. That in itself is enough to give a good case of the creeps.
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau stars as Martin, a college student who takes a job as the night watchman at the city morgue to pay the bills. Martin is beginning to settle into his position but things start to get uncomfortable when the latest victim of a brutal serial killer arrives in the morgue. Strange things start to happen and Martin has a few incidents with the cold corpses. Complicating matters is the fact that that his best friend Jens (Kim Bodnia) is a loose cannon who has recently started to use the services of a young prostitute (Rikke Louise Andersson). Jens tries to get Martin more acquainted with the prostitute when the two guys decide to play a dangerous game of daring each other to do questionable things. Although this behavior disturbs Martin, it is only when the prostitute ends up dead that he finds himself in the middle of a police investigation where nobody can be trusted and the morgue becomes an even more sinister place.
The first half of this movie is a very intense experience. Bornedal does a fantastic job setting up the location as Martin is shown the ropes by an old man who used to have the nightwatch. This fella is quite creepy and a number of unsettling elements of the morgue are introduced including a room with some mysterious vats of red liquid. There is also the small detail that pull cords have been installed above the corpses just in case one of them wakes up. The fact that these cords are even there evokes feelings of apprehension as the imagination takes over. These elements all come into play as Martin begins to do the job solo. His rounds will have nail-biters chewing away and will definitely increase the heart rate. Adding even more tension is Martin and Jens' game of dares as you do not know how far they are willing to go. When the extended finale arrives, the movie stays true to its tone and avoids dropping the ball like many thrillers. I found myself engaged throughout and was impressed by the emotion that all of the leads displayed. The only slight criticism I have is that the killer became a little cliche by the end and I still don't understand the purpose of a scene where a corpse may or may not be wandering the halls of the morgue.
Bornedal remade this film in 1997 with an American cast including Ewan McGregor, Josh Brolin, Nick Nolte, and Patricia Arquette. I remember seeing this remake back when it came out and thinking the original was superior. After seeing the original again, I have no desire to revisit the remake because I can't imagine it making any improvements. I find it strange when non-American directors remake their movies in America. Michael Haneke did this as well with Funny Games. It is so time consuming to make a movie, why would you want to revisit the exact same plot a few years later when you have already made an excellent flick? I can't answer that but I will say that the original Nightwatch still stands up many years later as a solid thriller from when the young Bornedal was simply concerned with playing with his audience. (Josh Pasnak, 3/15/11)
Directed By: Ole Bornedal.
Written By: Ole Bornedal.
Starring: Nikolaj Coster Waldau, Sofie Grabol, Kim Bodnia, Lotte Andersen.