In the prologue, which is set in medieval times, the audience is introduced to humans with special powers called The Others (Иные, иной; Inyye, Inoy). The Others are divided into two camps, with each Other either allied with the forces of Light or the forces of Darkness, and the prologue recounts a great battle between the two sides. Geser, the Lord of the Light, realized that the two forces would eventually annihilate each other. He stopped the battle and offered a truce to the forces of Darkness, led by Zavulon. To make sure each side honored its side of the agreement, the Light would have a "Night Watch" to monitor the forces of Darkness at night, and the Darkness would have a "Day Watch" to police the forces of Light during the day. This agreement maintained balance for centuries to come.
In modern-day Moscow, Anton Gorodetsky (Russian: Антон Городецкий) visits a witch named Daria and asks her to cast a spell to return his wife to him, agreeing that she should miscarry her child as part of it. Just as the spell is about to be completed, two figures burst in and restrain Daria, preventing her from completing the spell. When they notice that Anton is able to see them, they realize that he is an Other.
Twelve years later, Anton has become a member of the Night Watch and is working with the same team. On Anton's request, Kostya, his neighbor, takes him to see his father, a butcher, to get blood for Anton to drink. The father does this reluctantly, and then tells Kostya that members of the Night Watch only drink blood when they hunt vampires like themselves.
A twelve-year-old boy, Yegor, hears "The Call", a psychic call by a vampire who intends to feed on him. Anton tracks Yegor, being able to hear the call as he gets closer to Yegor, due to the blood he drank. On the way he sees a blond woman that terrifies him. Realizing she is under a deadly curse, Anton uses an ultraviolet flashlight to see if she is a vampire, but she is not. Two vampires are about to feed on Yegor when Anton arrives, and Anton injures the female and kills her partner while being badly injured. A member of the Day Watch arrives and reveals that the Day Watch is aware of the killing of one of their Dark members.
Zavulon and an assistant conspire to force the escaped vampire to call Yegor again, in order to entrap Anton and avenge the death of one of their own.
Anton is healed by Geser, who notes that he could have solved things more easily by entering into the Gloom—a shadow world only accessible by the Others. After Anton tells him about the woman in the subway, he reveals a legend about a virgin who is cursed so that people and animals around her die or sicken, and that she is accompanied by a "vortex of damnation". It is now clear that the virgin, now reborn, will soon activate the vortex, unless the Night Watch finds the one who cursed her. Geser gives Anton an assistant, a stuffed owl named Olga. Anton laughs and refuses, until he sees Geser throw Olga out the window, whereupon she turns into a living owl and flies away. At Anton's apartment, the owl arrives and shape shifts into a woman.
Anton asks Kostya for clothes for Olga. Kostya expresses anger at Anton, saying he knows that Anton killed the vampire Dark Other. Further conflict is delayed as Anton and Olga track Yegor to his home, where they must enter the Gloom, as Yegor is there hiding from the female vampire. The Gloom almost consumes Yegor, but a blood sacrifice from Anton satisfies it enough for them to escape. Emerging from the Gloom, Anton sees a photo of Yegor and his mother, who is apparently Anton's ex-wife, thereby revealing that Yegor is his son. The Night Watch members, Tiger and Bear, stay behind to protect Yegor, but as soon as they are distracted, the boy escapes and follows the call of the female vampire. During this time, Zavulon is seen working on a computer prediction in which he is fighting with someone, constantly losing.
Anton and Olga arrive at a command and control center set up near the apartment of Svetlana, the cursed woman from the subway train. A vortex capable of immense destruction has appeared over her apartment and bad things have been happening to those near her. Just before Anton goes into speak with her, Svetlana tells her neighbor Gregori that his mother has died, and this sets off a series of events that will shortly cause a nuclear meltdown unless the curse is abated. Anton enters Svetlana's apartment under the guise of needing medical care and talks to her, discovering that she cursed herself on her own, which also means she is an Other. As soon as this is revealed, the curse ends and the vortex disappears. Yegor escapes the grip of the female vampire, but is caught by Zavulon, who appears on the roof. During a duel, Anton attempts to stab Zavulon, but Zavulon sidesteps the swipe just as Yegor runs up. Zavulon stops Anton's momentum, both saving Yegor's life and making it appear as if Anton were attempting to kill his son. Zavulon's assistant reads Anton's personal file aloud. When Yegor finds out that Anton tried to kill him before he was born, and that he has special powers that the prophecy says are held by the Great One, he willingly turns to the Darkness, to Anton's great dismay. An afterword describes that as Yegor has chosen the Dark, he will lead the world into Darkness, but as long as there are those who choose to fight the Darkness all around them, there is hope.Konstantin Khabensky as Anton Gorodetsky
Vladimir Menshov as Geser
Valeri Zolotukhin as Gennady Saushkin, Kostya's father
Mariya Poroshina as Svetlana
Galina Tyunina as Olga
Yuriy "Gosha" Kutsenko as Ignat
Aleksei Chadov as Kostya Saushkin
Zhanna Friske as Alicia Donnikova
Ilya Lagutenko as Andrei
Viktor Verzhbitsky as Zavulon
The film was the first big-budget Russian supernatural movie and one of the first blockbusters made after the collapse of the Soviet film industry. The film was produced by Channel One, the government-owned TV channel, with a budget of US$4.2 million. It was shot in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
Part of the challenge for such a big-budget fantasy film was creating hundreds of visual effects (VFX) shots to which a modern audience is accustomed. 16 Russian VFX studios and several freelancers were used, each chosen for their individual strengths. Many shots were created by different artists across different time zones, using the Internet to share data and images.
The film contains several songs from rock bands, e.g. "Jack" by the Belarusian group TT-34 and "Spanish" by Drum Ecstasy. The song played in the credits of the international version of the movie is called "Shatter" and performed by the Welsh rock band Feeder. The track was a top 20 hit single in the United Kingdom charting at #11 in 2005, to coincide with the international release of the film. The song playing during the end credits of the American release of Night Watch is "Fearless" by The Bravery. In the original Russian version it is a rap song Nochnoy dozor (Finalnyy rep) performed by Uma2rman.
After premiering at the Moscow Film Festival on 27 June 2004, it went on general cinema release across the CIS on 8 July 2004. The film was extremely successful, becoming the highest-grossing Russian release ever, grossing US$16.7 million in Russia alone, thus grossing more in Russia than The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The sequel, Day Watch, was released across the CIS on 1 January 2006.
The film attracted the attention of Fox Searchlight Pictures, which paid $4 million to acquire the worldwide distribution rights (excluding Russia and the Baltic states) of Night Watch and its sequel Day Watch.
Night Watch holds a 58% rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on 127 reviews; the consensus states: "This Russian horror/fantasy film pits darkness and light against each other using snazzy CGI visuals to create an extraordinary atmosphere of a dank, gloomy city wrestling with dread."
One year after the Russian release, the international distribution began. Other than a London premiere at the Odeon West End as part of the Frightfest horror film festival, that screened amid heavy security on 28 August 2005, the first European country outside CIS was Spain where it was released on 2 September 2005. By mid October it had been released in most European countries, and on 17 February 2006 it had a limited release in the United States, followed by a full release on 3 March. By 13 February 2006 (i.e. before the U.S. release) it had grossed US$32 million.
The "international version" of the film debuted in the United Kingdom. In the prologue and epilogue, the Russian voice-over has been dubbed in English, but for the rest of the film features stylized subtitles appearing in odd places around the screen, often animated to emphasise or complement the action. For example, in a scene in which Yegor is being called by a Dark vampire, he is in a pool and the camera is underwater. The caption appears as blood red text that dissolves as blood would in water. In another scene, as a character walks across the scene from left to right, the caption is revealed as his body crosses the screen. In addition, many of the scenes that were present in the Russian theatrical release were omitted, while, at the same time, some scenes were re-cut or added. The International version is shorter by 10 minutes. The DVD was released in the UK on 24 April 2006. The zone 4 DVD had the option of either a Russian or an English audiotrack. Subtitles were simply plain white text at the bottom of the screen. The International version of both Night Watch and its sequel, Day Watch, are now available in HD on Vudu. The HDX encodes are based on the International release and retain the original Russian dialog track with the stylized subtitles.
The original Russian "Director's Cut" of the film was released, apart from Russia, in some European countries on DVD by 20th Century FOX. The only difference of this version from the original Russian version is the absence of the opening credits.
A third film, titled Twilight Watch (previously Dusk Watch), was announced by 20th Century Fox, however Timur decided to instead film Wanted for Universal Pictures. He went on to say that Twilight Watch would be too much like Wanted, and so to avoid working in an artistic rut the project would need to be either distinctively changed, passed to another director, or simply delayed so that intervening projects could be completed.
There is also a TV series in production.
In 2005, a "fun re-dub" was released under the title "Nochnoi Bazar" ("Night Chat"). The project was initiated by the writer Sergei Lukyanenko as a nod to popular (illegal) fun re-dubs by "Goblin" (Dmitry Puchkov). However, this fun redub was made with full consent of the filmmakers and copyright holders and released on DVD by Channel One Russia. The script was written by the Russian comedian Alexander Bachilo, the song parodies were written and composed by Alexander Pushnoy. The narration was done by Leonid Volodarskiy, a popular voiceover translator of pirated videoreleases in the Soviet Union.