Features Live Action Movies


Director – Ole Bornedal – 1994 – Denmark – Cert. 18 – 107m


Strange goings-on take place in a morgue after a law student takes on the nightwatchman’s job – out on Shudder UK from Friday, May 17th

Two male students Jens (Kim Bodnia) and Martin (Nikolaj Coster Waldau) make a pact: they are to challenge one another to a series of outrageous acts, and the first one who fails to follow though must marry his girlfriend. One evening, they and respective girlfriends Kalinka (Sofie Gråbøl) and Lotte (Lotte Andersen) are in a bar when two louts appear and hassle the two women as they return from the ladies room. Martin challenges Jens to stand up to them, which he does and gets assaulted for his pains. Jens later challenges Martin to go with 17-year-old prostitute Joyce (Rikke Louise Andersson), an encounter Jens facilitates in a restaurant, pinning his own name on Martin as a cover. Their swapping of names will later prove highly significant.

To save some money for his and Kalinka’s future, Martin takes on a job as a nightwatchman in a morgue, an easy enough job provided you don’t mind being the only living person on the premises along with a batch of corpses, which often includes murder victims since a murderer is currently at large in the area. If the alarm bell goes off, you phone the doctor before checking whether it’s a false alarm, which it will be. Thus, the stage is set for further pranks between the two men and some unsettling scenes involving Martin, his imagination and the morgue’s resident corpses.

After the corpse of the murderer’s latest victim is brought in, Martin meets the two detectives on the case, Peter Wörmer (Ulf Pilgaard) and Rolf (Stig Hoffmeyer) and the former takes him under his wing. When one night Martin discovers bloody footprints leading to a murdered girl’s corpse sitting in a corridor, Wörmer is the one person who backs him up. And yet, there’s something odd about Wörmer…

The proceedings slowly but surely evolve into a game of cat and mouse with the three students as the mice, the killer as the cat and the unearthly location of the morgue as the backdrop. Ole Bornedal’s script is devilishly clever, and he extracts memorable performances from his cast members. By the finale, we have Kalinka crawling across an optically interminable morgue floor strewn with broken glass as she attempts to save the hapless Martin from a dire fate at the killer’s hands.

The film has lost none of its power to shock since this writer first watched it back in 1995. It is brutal in places, notably a scene where the killer turns up at Joyce’s apartment to supply her with the heroin she needs to feed her drug habit, where his real intent is to kill her then plant fake evidence there to frame the innocent Martin for her murder. But then Kalinka, trying to work out the link between Jens, Martin and Joyce, stumbles into the apartment and discovers the girl’s corpse before the killer has finished doing what he planned to do.

While it’s the sort of film normally described as not for the squeamish – and as such, a perfect fit for streaming channel Shudder – and it has ghoulish elements due to the morgue setting and the corpses, it’s more of a taut crime thriller than a horror film as such. As thrillers go, it’s at the top end and possesses an almost timeless quality. A highly effective piece of work.

Nightwatchis out on Shudder UK on Friday, May 17th.


Followed by a sequel Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever (2023).

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