April 24, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

”Welcome to Mars,” the departing security guard tells Martin (Ewan McGregor, uncomfortable and passive) as the spooky coot shows the cocky newcomer around the bowels of the hell that is his new after-law-school-hours job in Nightwatch (Dimension). Martin, an unlikely student with an accommodating girlfriend (Patricia Arquette, sleepy and recessive) and a sadistic best friend (Josh Brolin, snarly and aggressive), has signed on for the late shift at a forbidding-looking medical building, where what social life there is occurs when the local police inspector (Nick Nolte) and his deputy (John C. Reilly) examine the newest body in the morgue: A serial killer is on the loose, whose signature is removing the eyes of his prostitute victims. And darned if all clues don’t point to Martin.

This isn’t Mars, though: It’s more like the dark side of Dimension’s moon, a post-Seven creative wasteland where it doesn’t matter what sadistic evil the characters do in the name of the slasher genre, what inane non sequiturs they utter, so long as the violence is cloaked in music-video-chic artiness. Writer-director Ole Bornedal, remaking his own 1995 Danish-language original, counts on visual mood to fill in the places left blank by motive or moral impetus: The killer who inflicts these horrors does so just because; the tortures endured by the characters are lovingly filmed just because. We’ve got no reason to care about characters we don’t understand, but we’re taunted into enjoying the cold thrills, just because.

Back on planet Earth, Nightwatch is a horror for reasons that have nothing to do with suspenseful moviemaking. The film students in Scream 2 would have a fine time doing it in. D+


Ole Bornedal
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