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“Demons Are Forever” caters to fans of the original but still delivers for those discovering the “Nightwatch” world for the first time.

Demons Are Forever

One reason 2018’s Halloween reboot worked so well (without debating the merits of the two follow-up films) is how it dealt with trauma — decades after an inciting event.

More frightening than even the most nightmarish experience that you barely survive is having to survive. Escaping with your life, tragically, doesn’t mean escaping unscathed. What kills you slowly, day in and day out, is the lasting, relentless, devastating long-term effects of trauma.

Director Ole Bornedal, returning thirty years after his original Nightwatch made a splash in Denmark in 1994 — prompting his involvement in a star-studded but doomed American remake two years later — understands this all too well.

Thus, for his unexpected sequel, he leans into that exploration of where his characters might be three decades after facing evil and how their nightmarish experience inevitably impacted their lives and the lives of those around them.

First, a bit of a rewind for those unfamiliar with the first film or its mostly faithful American adaptation.

He may be a household name now thanks largely to his excellent work on Game of Thrones, but in 1994, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was a very young, fresh-faced unknown looking for his big break. Nightwatch marked his feature film debut.

Coster-Waldau plays Martin, a cocky law student looking to earn a few bucks by working as a night guard at the city morgue, where he will enjoy the added benefit of having plenty of uninterrupted quiet time for studying. It’s the perfect gig for him, even if it is rather unnerving and morbid.

From the jump, that tense and creepy atmosphere is cranked up considerably.

There’s an overwhelming sense that something is not quite right and a pervasive, oppressive certainty that nothing is as it should be. With dead bodies everywhere, nerve-jangling isolation, and plenty of long, dark corridors, it’s a masterful setup for supernatural terror.

This is teased early on by the eerie presence of a string in the morgue that triggers an alarm in the guard’s station should one of the dead randomly decide to wake up and need assistance.

It turns out, however, that the dangers lurking in this house of horrors are far more mundane than corpses rising from the dead — and, simultaneously, far more chilling.

From here, I need to offer a spoiler warning for those who haven’t seen Nightwatch and want to get up to speed before diving into Demons Are Forever (which you should absolutely do now that it’s on Shudder after spending years in hard-to-get relatively obscurity in the U.S.).

Martin crosses paths with a dangerous serial killer who stalks, slashes, and scalps his victims — all vulnerable women.

The killer is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, hiding in plain sight. He operates so efficiently and cleverly that Martin becomes the prime suspect when the killer’s latest victim lands in his morgue, and nefarious things ensue.

This dangerous web of deception and mystery also ensnares Martin’s loving girlfriend, Kalinka (Sofie Gråbøl), his juvenile best friend, Jens (Kim Bodnia), and Jen’s girlfriend, Lotte (Lotte Anderson).

It all culminates in a thrilling finale that brings Martin, Kalinka, and Jens face-to-face with a madman in a night of terror that will leave them all emotionally scarred.

They are scars miles away from healing when we meet back up with Martin at the beginning of Demons Are Forever.

Despite the oddly upbeat ending of Nightwatch, a seemingly happy ending appears to have been short-lived.

Martin and Kalinka married, even having a daughter together, Emma (Fanny Leander Bornedal, the director’s own daughter). But their union was fraught with misery. Kalinka’s PTSD deeply affected her mental health and emotional state, eventually causing her to hang herself (leaving her body to be discovered by Emma).

Martin fared only slightly better. A hollowed-out shell of his charismatic old self, he pops pills to numb the pain, keeps a shrine to his dead wife, and refuses to share any of the sordid details of his past with his very inquisitive daughter.

Emma’s still-puerile godfather, Jens, bailed on his wife, Lotte, running away to Thailand to escape all his demons and responsibilities. None of the former best friends have stayed connected with each other, separated by their unprocessed grief. However, a tragedy brings Jens back into the fold, and it’s clear his bond with Martin is as strong as ever despite both men’s inability to be emotionally honest and vulnerable following their shared trauma.

Desperate to bring her father back from the brink, Emma does her own research and uncovers the truth about what happened to her parents thirty years earlier.

Their tormentor is now an old man, blind and institutionalized, where he is now a peaceful and unproblematic resident.

In a series of very bad decisions, Emma takes a job as a night guard at the same morgue where Martin once worked (much to his dismay) and manipulates her way into visiting with former killer Wörmer (Ulf Pilgaard returning to his role from the original film and just as effectively menacing this time around), who she berates and videotapes before spitting in his face and stealing his personal files.

This, of course, sets into motion a series of devastating events that puts Emma, her friends, her father, and her godparents in the crosshairs of Wörmer’s rage — now aided by at least one disciple willing to do his dirty work while he remains locked away.

Wörmer’s deranged devotee (who may not be alone in his loyalty) is a psychiatric patient named Bent (Casper Kjær Jensen). He’s a perfectly intimidating and unpredictable antagonist who rivals his mentor in his ability to strike terror while eliciting a disquieting pity.

This sequel puts strong women front and center in a very welcome sharp contrast to the first film.

Emma takes over from Martin as the primary protagonist, and her quirky and endlessly compelling bestie Maria (Nina Terese Rask) steals the spotlight among the supporting characters.

Sonja Richter shines as an empathetic psychiatrist assigned to Wörmer’s case. When confronted with Emma’s rage, she requests empathy in the face of suffering — both for the killer, who, like Martin, is just a shell of his former self and for his family.

She argues his loved ones, including his now grown child, must have been just as impacted by the fallout of those horrific events as Martin and his loved ones.

With many police procedural elements, Paprika Steen also plays a key role as a cynical, often cruelly matter-of-fact detective trying to solve the murders left in the wake of Wörmer’s reawakening.

Young Bornedal may have had a significant leg up during the casting process, but that doesn’t make her any less compelling.

She aptly carries the weight of the film on her shoulders, demonstrates impressive emotional range, and makes a convincing and investing lead.

The central locations are characters in their own right; it doesn’t get much scarier in a horror film than a morgue and a mental institution.

It helps that these harrowing halls are shot with considerable style and technical prowess to wring every ounce of tension possible from their inherent creepiness.

Like Nightwatch, Demons Are Forever is a deliberately placed mystery that takes its time to bring its simmering tension to a boil. After Emma visits Wörmer around the 40-minute mark, things escalate quickly with great suspense and quite a bit of nastiness.

A prior history with Nightwatch isn’t essential for enjoying this film, but it is helpful.

Watching the original 1994 film is a great primer and well worth your time. Besides preparing you for Demons Are Forever, it’s a smart and taut thriller in its own right that deserves its reputation as a cult classic.

As for its sequel, thirty years in the making, it’s a worthy follow-up. Well-crafted with stellar performances, this effective giallo-esque slasher and thoughtful psychological thriller is a welcome addition to the genre.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 3.5

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