By the year 2019, a Vampire plague has overtaken the world. Vampires make up 95% of the population and all of its citizens and their legitimate governments. The humans are outlaws and hide mostly in the wilderness where they're hunted like animals.The first quarter of the movie sets up the all-vampire society with minimal dialogue; the art direction and atmospherics help sell the reality of this world. To keep the sun from destroying them, wealthier vampires drive special cars with shields to block out the sunlight while ordinary citizens make their way through the cities using a massive network of underground streets whenever they have to be awake during the day. Blood is harvested from humans in Matrix-like collection farms and sold to citizens at coffee bars.As captured humans are tapped out and the supply of free-ranging fugitives is dwindling, the blood supply is running dry. Ethan Hawke plays a man made a vampire against his will who's researching a means for synthesizing blood out of sympathy for the humans' plight, and finds himself falling in with a band of fugitives who claim to have found a cure for vampirism. Sam Neill plays his boss, a deliciously evil vampire who insists on developing a blood substitute instead of a cure so he can retain and expand his market share.
This film provides examples of:
Always Chaotic Evil: The subsiders. The regular vampires feed on blood but retain enough human qualities for some of them to even be sympathetic characters, but the subsiders are feral monsters that kill on sight and prey on vampires and humans alike.
Bat out of Hell: Blood-starved vampires degenerate into mindless werebat-like "subsiders" that terrify the regular vampires.
One of the early news feeds implies that it was a bat that started the entire vampire infection.
Being Evil Sucks: It certainly does once the food supply starts to run out and citizens get hungry and start mutating.
Berserk Button: Bromley gets really touchy about anything involving his estranged daughter. As intended, Edward's calling him a coward for sending Frankie to bite her instead of doing it himself pushes him over the edge.
Big Red Button: Bromley has one in his office, which he uses to summon the vampire patrol.
Bittersweet Ending: Yes, our heroes found a cure, but it's not clear whether it'll work on the subsiders, they still face considerable opposition to administering it (not to mention that getting fed on tends to be fatal from the wounds), and casualties from the worldwide war between humans and vampires will surely continue to mount.
Big Damn Heroes: First Frankie, and then Elvis turn up in the lobby just in time to save the heroes.
Bloody Hilarious: The truly epic failure of the first test subject for the blood substitute is so brutally abrupt, one's reaction may well be a sort of horrified breath of laughter.
Broken Aesop: The film set in a world of vampires and a dwindling supply of blood is basically one long analogy for our dependance of oil. Which is fine right up until the end where they create a substitute for blood which gives us not, "don't blindly waste resources and deal with the problem before it becomes a problem" but "blindly waste resources and science will stop the collapse of civilization just in the nick of time."
It gets further broken when you consider that alternatives to fossil-fuels already exist; they're just not yet economical.
Cat Scare: Very subtly riffed and subverted. The movie pulls the "loud noise and rushing object from off-screen scare" precisely three times, always with an infection-free bat. In contrast, the first time we get a good look at one of the subsiders, it emerges slowly, silently, and somewhat solemnly from the shadows.
City Noir: Apathetic citizens shuffle though a maze of overbearing black skyscrapers and Sinister Subways as sirens wail in the background.
Cool Car: Vampire cars are very sleek and have a wide variety of gadgets to make them suitable for daytime driving (cameras, blacked-out windows, etc.)
Cormac also owns a couple of very awesome muscle cars.
Cure For Cancer: When a human is turned into a vampire, it cures all of their ailments, including cancer. It also freezes their bodies at the age they were when they turned. Too bad they can only drink human blood which is in very short supply. That is, until a working substitute is found near the end
Curse That Cures: Bromley was dying of cancer until he got turned into a vampire, which is one of the reasons he's actually grateful for the change.
Death Is Dramatic: Alison's execution, where she is being dragged down the hallway and finally goes up in flames together with the other subsiders.
Defiant to the End: Even after transforming into a subsider, Alison is still able to recognize and lash out at Frankie, staring him down as she's pulled into the sunlight.
Diesel Punk: Even though it's set in the future, it has a substantial Diesel Punk aesthetic.
Does This Remind You of Anything?: Society is running out of a resource that it needs to keep functioning. Those in charge of procuring it insist they can always find new supplies of it somewhere. At the same time, they are searching for an alternative more easily renewable resource, but have no plans to alter the selfish behavior that brought about this shortage in the first place. Society's last hope is a scientist who was never very happy with exploiting this resource in the first place and refuses to consume it himself. This movie certainly uses a lot of the classic tropes one finds in a conservationist movie with a Green Aesop.
While reminiscent of peak oil and fossil fuel depletion in general, it's also reminiscent of any number of scarcity issues, corporate ethics issues, and the like.
Faux Action Girl: Audrey; she gets captured no less than three times, and the men are called upon to save her every time.
Food Chain of Evil: Subsiders -> Vampires -> Humans. However, subsiders will eagerly take human blood whenever they can get it. Feeding off vampire blood (including one's own) accelerates a vampire's mutation into a subsider.
A Glass of Chianti: Played absolutely straight with Bromley kidnapping Audrey and draining her blood into a wine glass. Bit of a waste, under the circumstances, but perhaps he didn't want that being used as leverage against him.
Gorn: Seen in the army-feeding scene, and in the aftermath of one of the vampire raids.
High Concept: What if traditional vampires (the kind whose bite always produces another vampire) really did exist, and had all of our modern corporate supply chains and technology to help them survive and keep from going extinct?
Horror Hunger: The need for blood doesn't seem so bad until one realizes deprivation is what made the subsiders the way they are.
Humanity Ensues: This is what ultimately happens to Charles Bromley. Edward Dalton then sends him down the elevator, to where an army of starving vampires are waiting. Hilarity Ensues, albeit very bloody and macabre kind of hilarity.
First, between Frankie and Edward. Edward admits to Audrey that his brother turned him, and he still resents him for it, though he still loves him. Frankie regrets turning him, but insists he thought it necessary.
Second, Charles Bromley and his estranged daughter Alison. She violently rejects all of her father's attempts to persuade her. After he has Frankie turn her for him, she refuses all blood rations and starts feeding from herself to hasten her mutation into a subsider until he has the Army execute her. When he pays her a visit in her cell, she even attempts to force her father to drink her blood.
Idiot Ball: The convoy of humans that gets ambushed is only in that position because they decided to travel under cover of darkness when they're being hunted by vampires. Vampires are capable of hunting during the day, too, but they're more vulnerable then and the humans would have the tactical advantage.
The Immune: Anyone cured of vampirism is immune to the change, and cures the feeder. The only problem is surviving the violent feeding frenzy that inevitably ensues when one is suddenly placed in a crowd of hungry vampires.
Karmic Death: The vampire bureaucracy was treating humans like cattle; in the end head bureaucrat Charles Bromley ends up being slaughtered like one.
Also, the vampires who eat Frankie immediately become human. Unfortunately for them, they do so within sight of a small army of starving vampires who subsequently devour them just as messily.
Then the surviving ex-vampires are shown clutching their stomachs and looking seriously nauseated at realizing what they've just done a few moments before a much less hungry vampire bursts in and mows them all down with a sub-machine gun.
Kryptonite-Proof Suit: The vampires make good use of modern technology, developing day-proofed cars and sunlight-blocking body armor.
Kill the Cutie: Alison Bromley. See the I Hate You, Vampire Dad entry above. Guilty and horrified at seeing his fellow soldiers cheering on Alison's execution, Frankie ultimately decides to switch sides.
Made of Explodium: Staked vampires, and any vampire exposed to the sunlight for very long. This applies to any kind of vampire, and the heat of the explosion is a real hazard: according to a television news report in the background in one scene, the vampires have been having a lot of trouble with forest fires caused by exploding vampire wildlife. As one of these traditional vampires' traditional traits, however, decapitation doesn't produce the same reaction.
Mortal Wound Reveal: Played with, in the scene where Bromley realizes he was stabbed by his daughter. The wound doesn't turn out to be fatal, though.
Muggles Do It Better: Vampires hunt humans for their blood, and have little choice but to use tranquilizer darts to ensure they capture them alive. Humans, on the other hand, use stake-loaded crossbows with impressive accuracy, and are shooting to kill.
The Necrocracy: The film postulates a near future society much like our own but governed by vampires, after most of the population turn into vampires. The remaining humans who have refused to be turned are farmed/hunted down for their blood.
Nice Hat: Much of the fashion is 1930s retro. For those whom sunlight can burn and kill, wearing a fedora actually makes a lot of sense.
This is also possibly an extrapolation of how fashion trends tend to move in cycles, and some have predicted such fashions might come back by 2019.
No Seat Belts: The accident that turned Elvis human sent him crashing through the windshield to fly through the sunlit air and plummet into a lake. The car he was driving was an early 1950s model year, so maybe he never installed seat belts . . . when he was extensively modding it for daylight driving. He was also suffering from blood deprivation, so it may have had seat belts that he simply chose not to use in his currently poor judgement.
No Transhumanism Allowed: The film starts out with a transhuman utopia of immortal, disease-proof vampires, whose only real weakness is a dependence on increasingly scarce human blood. The villain's nefarious plan is to come up with a working substitute for human blood and keep all the other benefits. The hero's plan is to turn everybody back into frail, feeble humans.
Sunshine is also lethal to vampires, and children are rendered incapable of maturing physically. Whether vampires can get pregnant or reproduce the natural way is never addressed. Either way, immortality comes with complications. All the same, no one ever suggests making a cure mandatory, just available.
Bromley also makes clear that he has no intention of ever letting the captive humans go. Instead, he plans to continue selling genuine human blood to high-paying clients who prefer the real thing to the substitute, just as many people prefer the taste of real meat to any substitute.
Not Growing Up Sucks: At least one vampire child takes this point of view in a very disturbing scene from the opening showing a "preteen" committing suicide by sunlight. While this has no direct effect on the story, it does establish that not everyone in this society is happy with this kind of eternal youth.
Offscreen Teleportation: Put to humorous use at one point when a human pops up behind Edward, spooking him. Occurs from time to time during the rest of the movie, too.
Later, Frankie manages to sneak up behind Audrey while she's in the middle an open field. Of course, he's a trained soldier, and her being in broad daylight gives her a false sense of security.
Our Vampires Are Different: Surprisingly averted. For all the "viral outbreak" talk and Edward's very empirical scientific approach to vampirism as a disease, the vampires in this story display all the classic supernatural attributes from more traditional stories: they must feed on blood regularly, do not have reflections in a mirror (however they do appear on camera), will burn at the slightest touch of sunlight, and will explode in a spectacular ball of flame when staked. Moviebob himself dubbed this film "the anti-Twilight" of movies.
The scene where the artificial blood is tested suggests they have some sort of vital signs and a need to breathe, so may not be wholly undead, despite their classic vulnerabilities and lack of heartbeat.
Paranoia Fuel: In-universe. After hearing that one of the first symptoms of becoming a subsider is the ears beginning to taper to a point, Edward begins carefully examining his ears in a mirror.
People Farms: Humans are kept suspended in huge halls and farmed for their blood. That said, the plot revolves around the problem that Vampires are consuming their stock faster than they can breed them.
Reasonable Authority Figure: The vampire government official who hides and protects the humans while they work on a cure for vampirism. All he asks in return is some willingly donated blood so he can stay sane.
Senator Turner: "Hey, being a vampire anda politician, it can be hard to make friends."
Redemption Equals Death: Frankie spends the majority of the film as a lapdog of the government, intent on hunting down humans and reining in his own brother. Towards the end of the film he repents, becomes human, and dies in his very next scene. Also, the cure for vampirism plays with this trope, as in order to become human again both Elvis and Edward have to absorb (in controlled doses) enough sunlight to kill a vampire.
Retro Universe: Technically takes place ten years into the future. (It was released in 2009, but takes place in 2019.) Yet if not for the near-future tech, people generally have reverted to a 1930s-40s atmosphere.
Tested On Vampires: The first test subject for the blood substitute is a military volunteer. The results aren't pretty. Edward tests the cure on himself.
Terminally Dependent Society: This vampire civilization depends on keeping enough humans alive to manufacture its blood. Apparently, most of them didn't think to do the math and realize their supply can't last at the rate they're using it. The current scramble to get a substitute in place suggests that they have now caught on, but they've only had ten years... They're already rationing blood before the movie starts and are throwing everything they can at preventing the collapse.
Transhuman Treachery: Most of the Vampires seem to consider Humans to be a seperate species and lesser form of life. This is despite The Virus only having been around for the last ten years and some of them were still human up until five years ago.
Unspoken Plan Guarantee: When Edward and Audrey are captured, cured Edward is pushing Bromley to feed on him because Frankie was cured after biting cured Elvis. We aren't told this until quite a bit after the scene.
Vegetarian Vampire: Played with in regards to Edward. He typically drinks animal blood but still suffers the beginning stages of deprivation and is shown to be developing a subsider's pointy ears. Never clarified is whether this is because the type of blood he was drinking is less effective or simply because of a general shortage, as both human and animal blood are indicated to be getting more difficult to procure. When the human resistance notices his condition, Audrey immediately donates some of her blood to him in a cup and makes him drink it, though he does so against his principles and only very reluctantly.
Villain World: The setting is basically this from the point of view of the humans. Vampires have taken over the world and are hunting them down to put them in a farm and gradually suck them dry.
On the other hand, the film goes to some length to show us that vampires are still very much human and well aware of their moral failings and limitations, rather than Always Chaotic Evil monsters that revel in their predatory nature.
Zombie Apocalypse: Not immediately obvious, but as the blood supply dwindles and the effects of deprivation grow ever more widespread and pronounced, the vampire civilization gradually degenerates into something very much like this as the subsider population begins to grow and blood riots break out at the coffee stands. Fortunately, the cure is as contagious as the original vampirism was.
Even more so actually: Vampirism is spread one feed at a time (assuming the victim lives), from feeder to victim. Humanity is spread in bursts to everyone who feeds from the ex-vampire, which considering the feeding frenzies we see, seems to indicate that it will have a much faster chain reaction.
These feeding frenzies do demonstrate one drawback, however: the one bitten is unlikely to survive. Ex-vampires will probably do better for themselves to try luring hungry vampires to them one at a time. The extraction technology Charles Bromley's corporation was using might also be effective for gathering and distributing the cure without endangering the donors.