[Screen It]


(1998) (Ewan McGregor, Nick Nolte) (R)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Moderate Heavy Heavy Extreme Heavy
Mild Mild Extreme None Extreme
Smoking Tense Family
Topics To
Talk About
Moderate Heavy None Mild Extreme

Horror: A series of serial murders begins to point to a law student who has just taken a job as a night watchman in a medical examiner's building.
Martin Bells (EWAN McGREGOR) is a last year law student who takes a job as the night watchman in a medical examiner's building. Although most of the time he can catch up with his studying, every hour he has to make the rounds through the complex, including entering the morgue. There, recent murder victims are occasionally brought in by Inspector Cray (NICK NOLTE), a gruff detective who's investigating a serial murder spree along with his partner, Bill Davis (JOHN C. REILLY).

Martin's girlfriend, Katherine (PATRICIA ARQUETTE), isn't crazy about his new job, while his pal and fellow law student, James Coleman (JOSH BROLIN), doesn't think that the job or either of their lives is that exciting anymore. Believing that they should live life on the edge, James gets Martin to agree to a "game" of challenges where either of the two will test the other's nerves and bravado. One of them involves soliciting a prostitute, Joyce (ALIX KOROMZAY), for various sexual and nonsexual activities.

Soon, however, some strange events begin occurring in the morgue and Martin wonders if his friend is behind them, especially when the events make Martin look like the prime suspect for the serial murder spree. As things get progressively worse, Martin doesn't know whom to trust or whether the recent occurrences are just part of a game or are indeed real and potentially quite dangerous.

Preteens won't, but teens might if they're fans of someone in the cast or of horror/thriller type movies.
For strong morbid violence, language, sexuality and some drug content.
  • EWAN McGREGOR plays a law student who finds himself the suspect in a serial murder spree. Along with some cussing, he also smokes throughout the film.
  • JOSH BROLIN plays Martin's buddy who wants to live life to its extreme and thus confronts Martin with a series of challenges and dares. Not only does he visit a prostitute, but he then gets her to manually "service" Martin.
  • NICK NOLTE plays a gruff detective who's investigating a serial murder spree. As the story progresses, we learn there's more to his involvement in the case than previously believed.


    OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
    Ah, the horror movie, long a cinematic staple. When you think about it, it's really an oddity that people will willingly pay and subject themselves to be scared. Much like a gut wrenching roller coaster, people enjoy the buildup and tension that accompany such flicks. Perhaps it's because we no longer have to fear the sabertooth tiger or other various beasts that we need, what in essence becomes, a cathartic release.

    Speaking of releases, Dimension Films has finally decided, after many delays and scheduling jitters, to open "Nightwatch," its latest entry in the horror genre. Of course the true litmus test of whether it should deserve to fall into that category depends on how well it manages to tap into our universal fears and then scare the wits out of us.

    In the past we've had movies based on people's fears of demonic forces ("The Exorcist"), haunted houses ("The Haunting"), being eaten alive ("Jaws"), and the latest Pauly Shore movie ("Biosphere" -- sorry, couldn't resist). The most recent and prolific entry has been that of the serial killer -- the bogeyman who might just jump out from the darkest shadow with a knife ready to plunge into your...

    Well, you get the idea. One of the better fears, however, that's deep-seated in our subconscious is the fear of the dead. No, not of them as monsters, although "Night Of The Living Dead" was quite scary. We're talking about fear of cadavers, morgues, funeral homes and the likes. For whatever reason, humans are the only creatures to fear their own dead. Perhaps it's because only we can sense our own mortality, and seeing dead people quite clearly reminds us of that.

    For whatever reason, a movie set at night in a near deserted and quite spooky medical examiner's building is a perfect setup for a horror movie, and "Nightwatch" takes that idea and runs with it. Most everyone gets the heebie-jeebies thinking about morgues, and the idea of being a night watchman who must walk through one every hour is quite unnerving.

    The early scenes in the movie are really spooky, what with the old and peculiar night watchman (who's retiring) telling his replacement -- and us -- never to go into certain rooms, or that it's a very good idea to get a radio to calm one's uneasiness. One of the film's most highly effective scenes involves almost nothing happening. As we see the new night watchman's reflection in the window of his booth, something off in the distance -- that's out of focus -- moves just a little bit. Here and there. Back and forth. It's pretty spooky and it goes on for what seems like several long minutes.

    The coup de grace, however, comes when the old night watchman comments on some pull cords hanging over every sheet covered body in the morgue. When Martin, played by "Trainspotting's" Ewan McGregor, asks the man what they're for, the reply is "just in case." Well, once we've been told that, we know it's only a matter of time before a certain alarm will go off, late at night, when no one else is around, indicating that one of those cords has been pulled -- by someone, or something. After calling for help and being told he'll have to investigate it alone, the scene gets nerve wracking as Martin slowly walks down the hall, finds the morgue door open, and then sees the swinging pull chord.

    Then, quite suddenly, the spooky stuff stops and movie quickly degenerates into a run-of-the-mill, serial killer flick, all of which is quite disappointing considering the "fun" beginning. Of course, the warning signs of the pending decline were there all along in the shape of an overabundance and overuse of really scary music, particularly when nothing scary was occurring quite yet. Plus, we know right from the onset that this isn't a supernatural story due to the montage scenes during the opening credits that hint at the prospect of a serial killer.

    The movie could have survived this change, had the execution been competent, but unfortunately it's not. While the filmmakers have thrown some red herrings into the mix in an attempt to keep us off balance -- including one that becomes just way too obvious to fool anyone -- there just aren't enough possibilities or suspects present to make this a thrilling "who's the killer" story.

    Although writer/director Ole Bornedal has simply remade his own 1994 Danish film, "Nattevagten" (with some co-writing from Steven Soderbergh of "Sex, Lies, and Videotape" fame), he's missed some great opportunities by not making Martin one of the suspects, or, if not him, further presenting the fact that he may just be inhaling too much formaldehyde and is slowly losing his mind.

    While Bornedal momentarily plays with that notion just a bit, it's wiped out by the implausibilities that follow. For instance, after Martin follows a long, bloody trail down and around and through the corridors, he finds a corpse propped up against the wall. Granted, we realize someone dragged the body there (which isn't as scary as it getting there on it's own, but we're beyond that possibility now), but after he reports it they return to the scene to find nobody (get it?) there. Weird? Perhaps. Ludicrous? Absolutely. Are we supposed to believe that the killer put the body back and cleaned up hallway after hallway of blood stained floors in a short period of time?

    Apparently so, and the film just keeps more preposterous after that. The highlight -- or "lowlight" as it may be -- is when the police finally believe Martin is the killer and go to arrest him. Yet, since it's nighttime, do they head off to the morgue where they know he's working, or do they waste some time going to his place first? Time that, quite obviously, the killer uses to threaten Martin and his girlfriend. Granted, there are the standard "clever" matters the killer has taken to make sure everything falls into place to indict Martin, but he then decides to wait to kill someone until later on, that, of course, becomes his eventual undoing.

    Ewan McGregor ("A Life Less Ordinary" and the upcoming "Star Wars" prequel) is effective and believable in his role, but certainly less charismatic than in his most recent outings. Nick Nolte ("U-Turn," "48 Hours") delivers just an okay take as the detective with a shady background, but for the most part he's underused in a weakly written role. Although some of his character's questionable and unbelievable motivation and behavior is eventually explained, his final development is less than satisfying. On the supporting side, Josh Brolin ("Mimic," "Flirting With Disaster") is deceptively good as the friend with a quest for risky adventure, while Patricia Arquette ("Lost Highway," "True Romance") is only adequate as the standard scared girlfriend.

    While one realizes that this film isn't meant to be a supernatural thriller, the teasing of such material does make one wish there was more to the film than is eventually presented. Although it delivers some "fun" and spooky moments early on, the movie eventually turns into a lackluster and decidedly less than frightening production. We give "Nightwatch" a 4 out of 10.

    Here's a quick look at the film's content. Being in the horror and suspense/thriller genre, it obviously has many scenes that may be too intense for younger kids and/or adults who have low tolerance levels for "spooky" scenes. Several violent incidents occur that are, of course, bloody, and several people are killed. Profanity is extreme with more than 20 "f" words, and in addition to seeing several nude corpses, we see a man's reaction to a prostitute manually stimulating him under a restaurant table. Along with some drinking and smoking, we also see a character injecting a drug into her neck. Although it's questionable how popular this film will be among teens, you should probably take a closer look at the content should someone in your home wish to see it.

  • Martin, James and their girlfriends drink in a bar in several scenes, while the guys drink in several other scenes as well.
  • The doctor on duty offers Martin a choice of pharmaceuticals to help him with his "problems."
  • People drink wine in a restaurant.
  • James pours whiskey for him, Martin and Joyce, and pays the latter to drink after she said that she doesn't because she gets sick from doing so.
  • We see Joyce inject what appears to be a drug straight into her neck, and moments later she appears quite drugged.
  • It appears that James, his girlfriend and Katherine have been drinking shots.
  • Martin sees body organs stored in jars.
  • James' lip is a little bloody after another man punches him.
  • We briefly see a bloody wound on a cadaver as well as some dried blood that had run down from where the eyes have been removed (seen from the side of the head).
  • Martin goes into the morgue where he sees a now empty, but bloody table and a blood trail along the floor, leading out of the room.
  • We see a needle injected into a person's neck.
  • We see just a tiny bit of blood under Martin's lip after Katherine bites him.
  • As a man stabs a woman to death, we see a great deal of blood dripping and then splashing down onto her feet and the floor. Moments later we see some blood on her bare butt and then see the killer washing the blood from his gloved hands.
  • Martin slices his arm (resulting in bloody cuts) on broken glass in a window.
  • The killer has some blood on his head after being hit.
  • A man's hand is bloody after he's cut off his own thumb to free himself after being handcuffed.
  • Blood splatters as a person is hit with a baseball bat, and later when a different person is shot.
  • The serial killer obviously has both as not only does he kill people, but he tries to frame Martin for the murders.
  • The retiring night watchman tells Martin about a former guard who "did it" with the corpses (ie. Necrophilia).
  • James has both as he continually pushes Martin to live life to the extreme, and challenges him to have sex with Joyce, a prostitute. He also admits to having sex with her, and then has her do sexual things to Martin in a restaurant for laughs. He also offers to pay her money to do other (nonsexual things) such as drinking liquor and trying to convince him when she says that she loves him.
  • Some local thugs bully people in a pool hall.
  • Scenes listed under "Violence" may also be tense to some viewers.
  • Most of the early scenes with Martin in or around the morgue are tense/scary as a great deal of scary music plays along with them. Since he's there alone, many of the moments when he has to go through his rounds walking down the deserted corridors are quite spooky, as are the moments where he has to walk along the covered corpses.
  • An alarm goes off signaling that one of the pull chords above a corpse has been pulled in the morgue. Martin then has to go and investigate by himself what really happened and the scene is quite spooky.
  • Martin goes into the morgue where he sees a now empty, but bloody table and a blood trail along the floor, leading out of the room. He then follows that trail.
  • Katherine walks into an apartment and finds a recently murdered woman and then notices that the killer is still there.
  • The entire ending (many minutes) is tense as Martin must try to stop the killer who now has Katherine with him.
  • Knife: Used to kill several people. See "Violence" for details.
  • Gun: Knocked from the killer's hand, and later used to shoot someone dead.
  • Scalpel/Surgical saw: Used by the killer to threaten others.
  • Phrases: "Screwed" (sexual), "Bitch" and "Whore" (toward women), "Geez," "Bastard," "Moron," "Jerk," "Nutcase" and "Screwed up."
  • Martin gives a doctor "the finger."
  • A timer's buzzer goes off, scaring Martin.
  • An alarm suddenly goes off.
  • A door suddenly opens, startling someone.
  • There is an extreme amount of horror movie type music throughout the film, especially at the beginning.
  • None.
  • At least 22 "f" words (4 used sexually, as is the phrase "screwed"), 11 "s" words, 9 hells, 4 asses (1 used with "hole"), 3 damns, and 4 uses of "Jesus," 2 of "God" and 1 use each of "Oh God," "G- damn," "Christ," and "Oh my God" as exclamations.
  • At the beginning we see a woman (dressed in just a towel) who lets a man into her place. They then start to act out a sexual encounter where she plays like a corpse under a sheet. Before anything happens, though, the unidentified man stabs the woman to death with a knife.
  • After Katherine tells Martin that he was moaning and kicking his legs during a nightmare, he asks, "You sure we weren't having sex?"
  • The retiring night watchman tells Martin about a former guard who "did it" with the corpses (ie. Necrophilia).
  • James tells Martin that he had sex with a prostitute.
  • Some local thugs accost Katherine and her friend and says, "Let me know if you're interested in nine inches..." The friend replies, "I'm not interested in f*cking you three times to get it."
  • We see the bare breasts and butts on several female cadavers/murder victims in several different scenes.
  • Paid by James to do so, Joyce unzips Martin's pants under the table in an upscale restaurant and begins to manually stimulate him (we don't see anything except his reaction to this and we hear his pleasured sounds).
  • James makes Joyce tell him and Martin about her weirdest sexual encounters. After mentioning that one guy acts like a baby and has her change his diapers and starts to mention something else about peeing, she then comments about another guy wanting her to act like corpse.
  • There may be just a split-second full frontal view of Martin in a bathtub (before Katherine blocks the shot).
  • The killer pours semen from a vial onto the murder victim to make it look as if she had been raped.
  • Martin smokes throughout the movie, while James and others smoke a few times.
  • None.
  • Serial killers.
  • Fear of corpses, morgues, and other similar items.
  • A woman is repeatedly stabbed with a knife (we don't see the actual penetration) during some sort of sexual encounter where she was role playing as a corpse.
  • We learn that a serial killer is on the loose who's killing young women and cutting out their eyes.
  • A local thug punches a man in a pool hall. Moments later, he hits James several times after James makes fun of him.
  • Katherine goes to kiss Martin but then bites him on the lip and smacks him (after thinking that he's been visiting a prostitute). She then slams a door, shattering the glass in it.
  • A man repeatedly stabs a woman while holding her up. Later, and from a distance, we see him going at her eyes with an instrument to remove them.
  • Martin hits a man with a baseball bat and then knocks his gun away from him.
  • The killer holds a scalpel to Katherine's throat.
  • The killer hits one man on the back with a baseball bat and another man on the head, knocking him out. He then handcuffs the first man to a pipe, who then takes a saw and cuts off his thumb to free himself (mostly implied).
  • A man is shot several times with a gun.

  • Reviewed March 30, 1998

    Other new and recent reviews include:

    [Desperados] [Hamilton] [The Outpost] [Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga] [Irresistible] [My Spy]

    Privacy Statement and Terms of Use and Disclaimer
    By entering this site you acknowledge to having read and agreed to the above conditions.

    All Rights Reserved,
    ©1996-2020 Screen It, Inc.