A few things you need to know about Daywatch: it's a dark urban fantasy made by Russians, a sort of World of Darkness (if you're familiar with White Wolf's eponymous game line) or, if you prefer, Underworld. In this version of urban fantasy, which now seems to be its very own genre, every Halloween-type critter coexists: ghosts, vampires, werewolves all live in unhappy harmony just outside human perception.
There are two factions at work: the Daywatch, the dark-type bad guys who lurk in the night, and the Nightwatch, the beings of light who watch over the evil that supernatural monsters do. The two sides have made a truce of sorts to keep the other in balance and avoid all-out war. Each side has its own Chosen One, and if these two Chosen Ones happen to fight, it will be the end of the world. Our hero, Anton Gorodetsk (Konstantin Khabensky) just happens to be the connection between the two: his girlfriend and partner, Svetlana, in the Nightwatch team and his son, Yegor, who is corrupted by the Daywatch gang led by Zevulon. The two forces threaten to tear Anton apart. Literally - at one point, Yegor and Svetlana pull on Anton's arms as the building splits apart beneath him.
The first mistake I made was assuming that I could watch Daywatch without watching Nightwatch. I didn't read the book. I have no idea if Nightwatch established more information about the characters, but I hope so, because I was very confused by the end of the film.
The second mistake I made was my assumption that Russians always sitting around in grubby apartments drinking Vodka is a stereotype. Either the director (Zuberbuehler) was intentionally pandering to the stereotype or that's how it really is there. Whatever the case: there's a lot of smoking, a lot of drinking, and a lot of partying in Daywatch.
What's so refreshing about Daywatch is the complete disregard for American film tropes. It reminded me a lot of Brotherhood of the Wolf, wherein a director takes his vision and sculpts it without kowtowing to the "way movies are supposed to be." Special effects are used on things no American director would even bother with: there's a thrilling scene where a car drives up a building that seemingly exists for the sole purpose of showing off how cool the driver is. At various times Daywatch is beautiful and grotesque, frenetic and achingly slow, overdramatic and subtle. The film starts, stops, and starts again with little regard to whether or not the viewer can keep up.
The subtitles deserve their own mention: this is the first film I've ever seen that animated the subtitles themselves, so that they do neat things to emphasize what's happening on screen: fading away, appearing in front of and behind objects, appearing in a particular order, and turning from red to white and back again.
Nothing's what you'd expect in Daywatch. For all the shapeshifters and vampires, there's just one shape shifting parrot (?!) and no neck biting at all. Baba Yaga is accompanied by a coterie of dolls mounted on spider bodies. There's some business with magic chalk. There's time travel. There's a whole sequence involving body- and gender-swapping. And the world nearly ends through the use of a really deadly yo-yo. No, really.
It's difficult to discern what the rules are that governs the supposed catastrophic war. Perhaps in the same way Godzilla embodied fears about the atom bomb, Daywatch seems to be more concerned about the apocalyptic event when the two Chosen Ones meet than the war that ensues anyway - Daywatch and Nightwatch regularly clash, mobilize troops, and destroy large chunks of real estate. For two groups supposedly trying to avoid a war, they sure don't act like it. Maybe that's a statement on the Cold War itself.