Back in 2004, Russian science fiction film Night Watch took the genre film world by storm, introducing a new and exciting voice to the international crowd. Based on the work of novelist Sergei Lukianenko, Night Watch was no dour, pensive mood piece, it was an exciting, action packed film that became one of the decade's biggest international hits. It was followed up with the equally well received Day Watch in 2006. Both films were directed by the then unknown Timur Bekmambetov, who has gone on to be one of the most reliable science fiction filmmakers/producers in Hollywood, producing pulpy hits like Wanted, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and the current festival hit Profile.
Sadly, the proposed Night Watch trilogy never got its concluding chapter, but Lukianenko's written work has thankfully found new life with director Sergey Mokritskiy's A Rough Draft. Based in and around the concept of open world video gaming, A Rough Draft is an exploration of the potential of taking these ideas to their extremes. It's not a new idea, the concept was the basis for films like Cronenberg's eXistenZ and even The Matrix trilogy, but the way A Rough Draft blurs the lines between reality and the its own heightened version of reality is more about action than philosophy, and it really delivers on that front.
Kirill (Nikita Volkov) is a superstar video game designer who should be having the time of his life. Unfortunately for him, he seems to be mysteriously disappearing from the memories of those he loves most. His co-workers, his girlfriend, his parents, and even his dog don't recognize him anymore. When he stumbles into his apartment that morning, he finds that someone else lives there, and what's even crazier is that his world seems to be literally reconfiguring itself in front of his eyes. Building pop up out of nowhere, doors start to appear, and he doesn't know what the hell is going on.
Kirill has been chosen to complete a task, and his taskmaster isn't going to make it easy on him. He's now a customs officer, monitoring the doorways between alternate Moscow realities, but all he really wants is his life and his love back. How does he get there? Who is pulling the strings? What's the deal with those flying Russian nesting dolls with frikkin' laser beams? A Rough Draft takes a big budget and top notch special effects and turns it into one of the most entertaining films at this year's Fantasia.
Director Mokritskiy, who previously helmed Russian box office juggernaut Battle of Sevastapol, goes hog wild on A Rough Draft, delivering an exciting story driven film with ace visual FX to back it up. Inspired by films like The Matrix and Dark City, the visual language of A Rough Draft is poetic and brash. The story and manner in which Kirill is able to hop between worlds, understand and adapt to increasingly insane situations, and battle flying Russian nesting dolls with frikkin' laser beams is wild and very satisfying to watch.
While questions of identity, inter-dimensional travel, ethics, and the lengths to which we are willing to destroy a seemingly inferior entity for the perceived common good are certainly all present in the film, it's the whiz-bang technology that really sells A Rough Draft. Since at least the release of Night Watch, Russian FX films have pushed the envelope in terms of what is possible on screen and A Rough Draft spares no crazy-ass idea in putting this convoluted world in front of the audience. Buildings make and unmake themselves, our hero is alternately invulnerable to pain and subject to disintegration if he strays too far from his post, and of course the highlight has to be the nesting dolls, zipping through the air with maleficent scowls on their faces.
The plot can be a bit hard to follow at times, and there are a lot of characters to keep track of, but by the time it kicks into high gear, all can be forgiven. The sheer audacity of this film is admirable, and whether you're in it for a complex vision of the future, or just want to see some well-executed, crazy visuals, you're bound to find a lot to like about A Rough Draft.