Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever review – Danish morgue sequel returns from the dead

<span>Fanny Leander Bornedal and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever.</span><span>Photograph: Courtesy of Christian Greisnæs. A Shudder Release.</span>
Fanny Leander Bornedal and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever.Photograph: Courtesy of Christian Greisnæs. A Shudder Release.

Thirty years ago, just before the Dogme 95 movement raised the profile of Danish film-making, Ole Bornedal’s suspense thriller Nightwatch was what success for the country’s cinema looked like. Basically a modest but moderately clever genre exercise, it starred a young chiselled-cheeked Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, later cast as Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones, as a student called Martin who gets a job as a nightwatchman at a municipal building that contains a morgue. Partly because of a dare by his reckless buddy Jens (Kim Bodnia, of Pusher and later Killing Eve fame), Martin ends up becoming a suspect in that most 1990s of cinematic plot devices, a string of murders of sex workers by a serial killer. The last act is all WTF-twists, blue-hued lighting and stabby strings on the soundtrack, but the cast, which also includes the always-great Sofie Grabol as Martin’s girlfriend Kalinka, makes it very watchable.

Bornedal went on to make a forgettable US remake starring Ewan McGregor but is now back with this sequel for a new generation, appropriately starring a new crop of good-looking Danish actors including the director’s own daughter Fanny Leander Bornedal. She plays Emma, the medical-student daughter of Martin and Kalinka from the first film; sadly, Grabol only appears in a photograph as her character has been killed off before the action begins. With single-dad Martin still a bit of a post-traumatic mess after the events in the first film, Emma decides to take a part-time job as a nightwatch worker in precisely the same creepy building. And wouldn’t you know it, someone is killing women and scalping them just like the murderer (Ulf Pilgaard) did back in the day – only it can’t be him because he’s blind now and locked up in an asylum for the criminally insane. In between shifts, and occasional hook-ups with her sort-of boyfriend Frederik (Alex Høgh Andersen), Emma takes to investigating who might be committing the murders, with incorrect conclusions obviously leading to near-fatal consequences.

As if to make amends for the subtextual misogyny of the earlier film, Bornedal has made the female characters, including psychiatrist Lotte (Vibeke Hastrup) and Emma’s pal Maria (Nina Terese Rask), formidably fierce. But the banter feels strained, and the mechanics of revealing who’s behind it all creak like under-oiled hinges. Viewers may find their minds wandering on to questions such as why has security at the building never been improved, and however did Jens, visiting from abroad, manage to get a booking at one of Copenhagen’s hottest tasting-menu restaurants, Geranium, at such short notice?

• Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever is on Shudder from 17 May.