The Movie Waffler New Release Review - NIGHTWATCH: DEMONS ARE FOREVER | The Movie Waffler


Nightwatch: Demons are Forever review
Belated sequel to the cult '90s Danish thriller.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ole Bornedal

Starring: Fanny Leander Bornedal, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Kim Bodnia, Ulf Pilgaard, Sonja Richter, Casper Kjær Jensen, Paprika Steen, Nina Rask, Niels Anders Thorn

Nightwatch: Demons are Forever poster

*WARNING: This review contains spoilers for 1994's Nightwatch*

Hollywood has spent much of the past decade reviving long dormant horror properties through a format that has come to be known as the "legacy sequel," which usually means bringing back now aging original characters and pairing them up with young stars. It's a surprise to find a European movie get the legacy sequel treatment, but that's what we get with Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever, writer/director Ole Bornedal's belated sequel to his 1994 thriller Nightwatch, which he subsequently remade in English as a starring vehicle for Ewan McGregor in 1997, collaborating with Steven Soderbergh on the script.

In 1994 Denmark was associated primarily with arthouse cinema, so it was a surprise to get a straight-up thriller. Bornedal's film could be seen to have paved the way for the Nordic Noir trend of dark Scandinavian thrillers that would become hugely popular in the 21st century. Nightwatch starred a pre-Game of Thrones Nikolaj Coster Waldau as Martin, a young law student who takes a job as night watchman at Copenhagen's Forensic Medicine Institute. It's not a job for the easily spooked, as Martin finds himself left alone with just a morgue full of corpses for company. Some of those dead bodies are the recent victims of a serial killer known for scalping the young women he murders. Martin finds himself embroiled in the killer's antics, leading to a climax in which the killer is revealed to be police superintendent Peter Wormer (Ulf Pilgaard). Just as Wormer is about to kill Martin and his girlfriend Kalinka, the maniac cop is shot dead by Martin's unstable friend Jens (Kim Bodnia), and everyone lives happily ever after.

Nightwatch: Demons are Forever review

Or so it seemed. Despite the original ending on an upbeat note with Martin and Kalinka tying the knot, Demons Are Forever follows the lead of its American legacy sequel cousins by bringing trauma into the mix. Martin is now a pill-addicted wreck, devastated by Kalinka's suicide several years earlier. His 22-year-old daughter Emma (the director's daughter Fanny Leander Bornedal) has spent the last few years trying to keep her father together while trying to process her mother's actions. She's unaware of what her parents went through in '94 until she comes across some newspaper clippings Martin has held onto. You wouldn't think this would be the sort of thing a father could hide from his kid - I mean, just how many serial killers have there been in Copenhagen in the the last three decades? - but Emma is shocked to learn what happened to her parents.

When the night watch position once again becomes available at the infamous Forensic Institute, Emma takes the job, hoping to find answers to what happened to her parents. Learning that Wormer survived the shooting, she visits him at the sanitorium where he's spent the past three decades. Finding a withered, blind old man, Emma films him to show her father how pathetic Wormer has become, but her actions have grave consequences when a copycat killer becomes intent on avenging Wormer.

Nightwatch: Demons are Forever review

The Danes have become very good at this sort of thing, and their film industry is the rival of most nations, so it's no surprise to find that Demons Are Forever is a slick thriller with a lot of production value and some quality performances. Bornedal fashions some memorable images here, with Casper Kjær Jensen spectacularly unsettling as Bent, an unstable young accomplice of Wormer whom we meet in the film's prologue as he's questioned over what seems like a copycat murder. There are some nicely rendered stalk and slash sequences, and great use is made of a mask moulded from Wormer's face which has the look of a decrepit and jowly Michael Myers. Fanny Bornedal makes for a likeable protagonist and Pilgaard is terrifying as the elderly Wormer.

But like most legacy sequels, Demons Are Forever struggles to justify its existence and plays more like a contractual obligation than a passion project. In attempting to please fans of the original while bringing in a new audience, the film too often has its older characters tell their younger opposites what occurred in the '94 movie as though it assumes most of the viewers who sit down to watch Demons Are Forever won't have seen its predecessor, which may well be the case, certainly outside Denmark. As a result, every time this sequel is gaining momentum, it becomes bogged down in some trip down memory lane, some of which is unearned. I'm thinking particularly of how it handles the return of Jens, a deeply unlikeable figure whose misogyny in the original (his degrading treatment of a teenage prostitute really hasn't aged well) not only went unaddressed but saw him become the hero when most viewers were probably rooting for his demise. With Demons Are Forever seeking to court progressive Gen-Z attitudes with the inclusion of a gender ambiguous character in Emma's friend Maria (Nina Rask), you might expect it to reckon with how loathsome Jens is, but the character hasn't changed his attitudes and it's baffling that Emma doesn't call out his boorish behaviour.

Nightwatch: Demons are Forever review

Demons Are Forever's biggest misstep is in moving the action away from the Forensic Institute. The location was the original's greatest asset, with much of that film's tension being generated by how creepy its badly lit subterranean corridors were. Surprisingly little time is spent there in the sequel and Emma taking her dad's old job doesn't really make any difference to the plot. Nightwatch was a classic case of a production with a limited budget being required to be clever and make the most of a great location. With more resources at hand here, Bornedal displays little of the creativity of his breakout thriller. It's certainly superior to recent Hollywood efforts to revive beloved genre properties and it bears all the surface quality you expect from today's Danish cinema, but Demons Are Forever never gets under your skin like its grittier predecessor.

Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever is on Shudder from May 17th.

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