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Demons Are Forever
(Nattevagten –
Dæmoner Går i Arv)

Director – Ole Bornedal – 2023 – Denmark – 110m


A law student’s daughter takes on his old morgue nightwatchman’s job to find out about the killer who traumatised her parents – out on Shudder UK from Friday, May 17th

WARNING: don’t watch this sequel until you’ve seen the original Nightwatch (1994). That’s easy enough to do, since both films are currently on Shudder.

SPOILER ALERT: if you’ve not (yet) seen the original, watch that before reading this review.

Almost thirty years on, Bornedal’s sequel is almost a retread of his original film. Almost, but not quite. Martin (Nikolaj Coster Waldau) has never totally got over his wife Kalinka’s suicide, caused by the fear of arrested killer Peter Wörmer. Several times a week, in scenes described but never shown, Martin visits the summerhouse where she hanged herself and talks to her. Martin’s friend Jens has long since disappeared to Thailand, while his girlfriend Lotte (played by a different actress, Vibeke Hastrup) still works as a vicar. Martin hasn’t heard from either of them in years.

Mental patient Bent (Casper Kjær Jensen) is a likewise incarcerated killer, a copycat. Later on, both he and Wörmer will escape their hospitals.

Martin lives with his med student daughter Emma (Fanny Leander Bornedal, the director’s daughter who is terrific here) who wants to find out exactly what happened to her parents. With the help of her new boyfriend Frederik (Alex Høgh Andersen), she cons her way into the psychiatric facility where the now-blind Wörmer (Ulf Pilgaard) is being held so she can film him on her smartphone, torment him and spit in his face. (She intends to show the video to her father later.) Her none too wise actions rouse the dormant killer from his states of ignorance and inaction.

It gets a lot more complicated than that, but one of the rare pleasures of the film, if you’re watching this having recently seen the original, is trying to work out where the plot is going to go next – I defy you to do so – and the ways in which it riffs off the earlier film; so the last thing you want is for a review to reveal any of that. Once again, the proceedings evolve into a game of cat and mouse.

Almost entirely gone is the buddy movie element and the daring game going on between two male leads: this is instead a father and daughter story, the father being one of the original leads, with the daughter very much in the foreground while the father is in the background, wallowing in the emotionally debilitating aftermath of the events in the first film. Martin’s Buddy Jens (Kim Bodnia) turns up for a section in the last third, so he’s not as prominent overall as you might expect. When he does turn up, though, it’s a pleasure to see and watch him again.

However, most of the significant characters here are not male but female (a situation curiously under-represented by the film’s publicity stills). Emma’s best friend Maria (Nina Terese Rask) occasionally covers for her in the morgue (a bit-part rather than a co-lead), while Emma and Maria’s respective boyfriends Frederik and Sofus (Sonny Lindberg) are marginalised even further down the cast list. Two further female characters are also given significant and memorable roles as the narrative unfolds: psychiatrist Gunver (Sonia Richter) and detective Kramer (Paprika Steen).

The cat and mouse pursuit is both tense and skilfully orchestrated, so much so that, at one point, the cat and the mouse momentarily switch roles, while the likely identity of the cat (or cats) changes as more information emerges about the characters. By the time the mystery has been clarified for the audience, the closing scene involves people fleeing at least two potential killers in the morgue premises, not all of whom the people fleeing know are there and one of whom may be someone they don’t even know exists.

This finale includes a particularly effective sequence of one person evading their pursuer around an isolated length of interior wall with no adjoining wall at either end. It also has the potential victim wearing soft shoes that make no sound while the killer wears high heels which go tap tap tap on the hard floor as they advance, adding considerably to the atmosphere.

It’s most definitely a sequel to be watched after seeing the original – well done Shudder for putting both online at the same time – and I’d be lying if I didn’t mention that the original film is the better of the two, albeit not by very much. This is nevertheless a highly effective sequel that does the original justice. The wait of almost thirty years has been worth it. And it’s great to see (most of) the main cast of the first film back for a second outing.

Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever is out on Shudder UK on Friday, May 17th.


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