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Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever

Do you remember “Nightwatch,” the 1994 Danish thriller about a young psych ward attendant who gets stalked by a killer? There was an English language remake in 1997 with the same title and director (Ole Bornedal) and starring Ewan McGregor, Nick Nolte, and Patricia Arquette, among others. The Danish version was better, though even that was mostly charming for its gloomy atmosphere and unusual focus on self-absorbed, unlovable young people. Now there’s “Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever,” an unconvincing sequel to the 1994 original that’s basically the Scandinavian answer to recent trauma-minded American horror legacy-quels like “Halloween Ends” and “Scream VI.”

It’s the present day, and another murderer is hovering around the Saint Hans Psychiatric Hospital. Emma (Fanny Leander Bornedal), the daughter of Martin (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), the original movie’s antihero protagonist, must stop the killing. Emma’s understandably hung up on what happened to her father after the events of “Nightwatch,” which left that movie’s antagonist, the deranged hospital superintendent Dr. Wormer (Ulf Pilgaard), blind and alone in a hospital cell. Also, Martin is now hooked on pills following the suicide of Kalinka (Sofie Grabol, not in this movie), his traumatized partner, and Emma’s mother.

To revive her dad, Emma takes the same night shift job that Martin had in the last movie. At the same time, a copycat killer emerges. Some glaring signs implicate Bent (Casper Kjaer Jensen), a disturbed albino hospital patient who refers to himself in the third person as “it.” Bent is also the least troubling aspect of Emma and Martin’s paint-by-numbers journey to closure.

In addition to taking up Martin’s old job, Emma also takes after her father by behaving recklessly with her twenty-something friends, though never with as much self-destructive abandon. In “Nightwatch,” Martin and his buddy Jens (Kim Bodnia) are callow chauvinists who drink too much and act up around women, like Jens’s horrified girlfriend Lotte (Vibeke Hastrup). Lotte returns for “Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever” but soon gets sidelined to make room for Emma and her pals Maria (Nina Rask) and Sofus (Sonny Lindberg). They drink too much and say inappropriate things, like when Maria jokes, “What if my naked body is Google Maps, and my c*** is a fishing village?” which isn’t much funnier in context. Emma also has a doofy boyfriend, Frederik (Alex Hogh Andersen), but he’s more of a class clown than a bad boy.

Director Bornedal, who also wrote “Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever,” still doesn’t seem to care about what defines young people beyond self-absorption and snottiness. In this sequel, Emma and her friends use buzzy concepts, like getting their partner’s consent, to needle each other. They’re also like Martin and his friends, as they were conceived in “Nightwatch,” in the sense that they’re more interesting as generic ciphers than as credibly human characters. That shortcoming's only disappointing when we're supposed to take Emma's friends seriously as emotionally complex people (i.e., whenever they're not advancing the plot).

Emma’s also more of a plot device and thematic springboard than a psychologically complex antihero. She mostly talks about why we should care about her defining need to heal her family’s traumatic past. Martin’s not much better, mainly because he’s only a supporting character. Emma, we’re told, discovered her mother’s dead body as a child, making it harder to forgive scenes where she interacts with her father—and almost everyone else—without grace, manners, or believably youthful irreverence. As a nosy amateur sleuth, Emma’s prescribed role doesn’t leave her much room to exhibit her emotions. She delivers some blunt and mildly suggestive dialogue—“You do know that suicide is hereditary, right?”—and then leaves viewers to figure out if that sounds like something a real college student might say. The adults in this movie don’t speak with much more nuance or discernment. (“Am I an old boomer if I say men are better suited for the job?”) Their stories are ultimately defined by a conventional need to reassure viewers that life goes on and rarely according to plan. That last part is especially ironic in a horror movie whose best scenes highlight shock scares and other needle-drop-deep emotions.

As in most American legacy-quels, “Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever” is most poignant whenever its older characters haunt their less-interesting younger counterparts. We’ve seen these performers age, and that’s way more harrowing than another psychopath’s spree. Alas, even when Bornedal grasps at big, character-driven emotions, he’s better at upsetting our loaded expectations than at providing closure or any thoughtful kind of emotional follow-through. This sequel’s corny, starch-stiff finale suggests that life is for living, not reminiscing. That sort of feel-good mawkishness only makes sense if you care more about Emma and her loved ones than their carry-on light baggage. “Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever” never lets its characters unpack their hangups, making it harder to care when some of them die violently just to keep the plot moving.

Simon Abrams

Simon Abrams is a native New Yorker and freelance film critic whose work has been featured in The New York TimesVanity FairThe Village Voice, and elsewhere.

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Film Credits

Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever movie poster

Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever (2024)

117 minutes


Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Martin

Kim Bodnia as Jens

Ulf Pilgaard as Wörmer

Alex Høgh Andersen as Frederik

Sonja Richter as Gunver



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