Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever

Ole Bornedal’s 1994 Danish film Nightwatch is a terrifically nasty little thriller about a young law student named Martin (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who takes a job as the night watchman at the Forensic Medicine Institute. He ends up confronting serial killer Peter Wörmer (Ulf Pilgaard), who slays women and has sex with their corpses – the same ones that end up in the morgue Martin is overseeing. Bornedal remade the movie for American audiences in 1997, with Ewan McGregor playing Martin and Nick Nolte as the equivalent of Wörmer. Radically altered by distributor Miramax Films, the remake was a disaster, both critically and commercially.

The director is back on track with his sequel, Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever, a film that’s as thrilling as the original but without as many rough edges, thanks to a bigger budget and years of Bornedal honing his style.

Coster-Waldau returns as Martin, now severely traumatized from the events of the past. His 22-year-old daughter Emma (Fanny Leander Bornedal) wants to understand those events and possibly help her father heal, so she accepts the exact same job at the exact same facility. Needless to say, Martin isn’t too happy about this development. It comes as a shock to discover that Wörmer is still very much alive, having been locked up for 30 years. He grows hellbent on getting revenge upon learning Martin’s offspring is working in the building. Strange, gruesome stuff begins happening, sending Emma into full investigation mode.

I’ve left out a significant part of the plot so as not to spoil anything Nightwatch fans wouldn’t want spoiled. (You can follow the movie if you haven’t seen the original, although it definitely helps, given the number of direct references and returning characters.) Whereas the first movie occasionally got bogged down in irrelevant nonsense – such as the game of “dare” that Martin and best friend Jens (Kim Bodnia) perpetually play – the sequel is more streamlined, hewing closely to the parallels between Martin’s troubling time at the institute and Emma’s troubling time there.

Universal

The movie builds suspense from the ghastly murders and creepy occurrences plaguing Emma during the night shift. Wörmer’s preferred method of scalping his victims comes into play again. Bornedal additionally creates a dark, paranoid atmosphere through cinematography and lighting styles. If you’ve seen the original, the tension is even higher because of the way the plot recalls prior events. When Emma ventures into that room, you might get a shiver because you know what happened in there.

As its title implies, Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever deals with the theme of generational trauma. Martin was traumatized by his experience, and growing up with him has left an impact on Emma. By trying to get to the bottom of things, she is not only aiding him in healing, she’s healing herself, as well. She wants a relationship with a father who isn’t scarred by the past. Building on the ’94 Nightwatch hits that theme in a unique manner, essentially having us share the trauma with Martin in the first film, then dealing with its aftermath with Emma.

Fanny Leander Bornedal is fantastic in the lead role. Yes, she’s the director’s daughter. This is no case of nepotism, though. Her performance carries the movie’s central mystery, as she brings a nice mixture of toughness and vulnerability to the character. There’s a shot toward the end of Emma holding a gun as the camera moves in tight on her face. The actress is so good that we don’t need to see what’s happening on the other end of that gun because her expressions say it all.

Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever occasionally leans in a bit too much on the “Hey, remember this?” angle. Mostly, those moments arrive organically, but a few come with a perceptible wink. Not that fans of the original will mind. The sequel is better made, taking the concept to new, often terrifying places. Anyone who enjoyed Nightwatch won’t want to miss this blood-curdling follow-up.


out of four

Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever is unrated, but contains strong language and graphic violence. The running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.


© 2024 Mike McGranaghan