‘Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever’ Shudder Review: Trauma Wields A Sharper Blade Than The Serial Killer

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You wouldn’t immediately think of Ole Bornedal’s 1994 thriller Nightwatch, which was practically a deliciously campy slasher in oh-so-many ways, as a candidate for a late sequel. 30 years ago, our handsome Game of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau chose Bornedal’s freaky morgue flick as a vehicle for him to be a familiar face in the Danish film industry. Nightwatch’s roaring success was all thanks to the whip-smart Bornedal’s apt understanding of what the people wanted from a serial-killer thriller set in a dimly lit morgue with a fresh and reasonably naive protagonist. After a rather disappointing American remake starring Ewan McGregor, Bornedal dusts off the decades-old tale to bring a PTSD-riddled sequel to the screen. This isn’t the good ol’ 90s, when thrillers weren’t so suffocated by the pearl-clutching, fainthearted restrictions. So the sequel sacrifices a lot of the depraved nastiness that flavored the original. But for a sequel that has trauma as an active participant, Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever is a fairly dark revival of a 30-year-old nightmare. 

Bornedal gets the haunting shadows of the traumatizing night at the end of Nightwatch to be the snare that captures the characters in Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever. In a way, it looks like the director’s gone soft on the people Wormer tormented back in the 90s. But he does well by limiting any focused discourse around how and why Martin’s come to be a junkie and an incompetent father to the 20-something Emma. Much of Martin’s demons and their roots are for us to pick up on as he dissociates so badly that the dinner he so painstakingly whips up goes bad in the oven he didn’t turn on. Maybe if Kalinka didn’t kill herself to escape the phantom panic—the memento of the night where she’d come close to losing her scalp—Martin would’ve sat Emma down and had a talk about how they’d almost lost their lives. 

The lost look on Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s unkempt face gets to be a storytelling tool in itself. It does more than silently elaborate on how Martin left a part of himself in that morgue even though he got away with his life. Martin’s numbness as his sole defense mechanism makes for a pretty terrible childhood for Emma. If we know anything about generational trauma, and I think we do considering it’s pop culture’s new favorite fixation, Martin’s condition rationalizes Emma’s hazardous decision to go back to where it all started. The same trope-y yet valid justification sort of makes you forgive Emma for poking the blind beast. That’s right. Former Detective Superintendent Peter Wormer is very much alive. Although hardly thriving. Ulf Pilgaard’s old, puny frame is the perfect disguise for the monster that’s clawing at him from the inside, in a hurry to break free. The broody darkness of his dingy room in St. Hans Psychiatric Hospital makes him into this ominous, ghost-like silhouette. In other words, Wormer’s still just as terrifying in Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever, even though there’s a far more active and vengeful copycat killer out there scoring all the kills. 

The premise alone is bound to make you worry that the protagonist will be predisposed to the kind of recklessness that’d get on your nerves. But Bornedal’s Emma, despite being a Gen Z youngster waging war against the fear that’s destroyed her family, is exempt from the stereotypical devil-may-care attitude. And the director’s daughter, Fanny Leander Bornedal, evokes the exact temperament Emma needs to have for you to be inclined to empathize with her. Martin let the trauma pass unchecked. And at the end of the day, Emma’s just a daughter trying to fix her broken father. Kim Bodnia reprising Jens’ role in Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever with the same zany sincerity is more than just a treat to the fans of the original. Emma’s face lights up after hearing the first real account of that night from her estranged godfather, Jens. And that’s where Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever dons its therapist hat and insists that Martin take a look inward. He likely justified never speaking about the night, reasoning that it’d be too much for Emma. But with Jens’ appearance, the film underscores Martin’s self-destructive attempt to block out the memories of that night because he’s too terrified to look back. 

Bornedal conforming to the mainstream tendency of going easy on the gore leaves a gaping hole in the horror department. But the unhinged character of a psychiatric patient gone rogue is a solid distraction from the absence of campy boldness. Bent’s maniacal smile and crazy eyes add just the right dose of freakiness to this psychotic messenger of death. Casper Jensen is tremendously convincing as this callow disciple of St. Hans’ most terrifying patient. He’s the perfect vessel for the fan-service horror elements that elevate the blood quotient in the film. If you’re anything like me, keep your eyes peeled for the self-mutilation scene and thank me later. To be fair, Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever does go through the trouble of slitting a very significant character’s throat. But it’s a pretty uninspired scene that’s reluctant to go big. 

Bornedal’s smart in not playing around with the atmospheric fear and avoids changing too much about the setting in the sequel. When you already have a death-stained morgue as the spot where the terror comes to a crescendo, you don’t need to go overboard with sound and light. If the claustrophobic silence of the gloomy corridors with only the dead for company worked for the original, it should work for the sequel too. But there’s this very specific way Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever uses the loud reverberation of songs you wouldn’t readily associate with horror. The lively sprint of the song on her dad’s old walkman is the only thing separating Emma from the world of the dead. It’s almost a security blanket, an imaginary protection against the grim history of that place. When the song is paused and the doomy silence takes over, the air gets heavy with the dread Emma had no business getting so up close and personal with. 


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Lopamudra Mukherjee
Lopamudra Mukherjee
In cinema, Lopamudra finds answers to some fundamental questions of life. And since jotting things down always makes overthinking more fun, writing is her way to give this madness a meaning.

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