Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are lovers, romantically involved for a great many years now but comfortable enough in their relationship to stay in different continents, he in Detroit and she in Tangier. Adam spends his time making music in his home studio where he is generally left alone since the area of the city he lives in is essentially abandoned, therefore underpopulated, leaving his sole contact with the outside world his assistant Ian (Anton Yelchin) who tonight has arrived with his boss's latest purchases, a collection of vintage guitars they both lovingly admire. But Adam wants something else, no questions asked as usual: a wooden bullet to fit his pistol. But why would he want such a thing? Is he perchance growing tired of his existence?
And why would he need a wooden bullet to end it all? That's because, as with Innocent Blood, another horror movie that didn't mention a certain word, the lead character is a vampire, having lasted for centuries to reach the twenty-first century only to find there is very little to keep him engaged, which may be why Eve heads over across the Atlantic (on a night flight, of course - she's a bloodsucker too) to see if she can cheer her old beau up. But just as she appears to enliven his time with a little companionship, the old "hell is other people" issue is brought up again, for Adam is sick to the back teeth (or maybe just the fangs) of having to interact with others, be they supernatural or normal humans who he disparagingly calls "zombies", though there are no flesh-munching ghouls in the movie.
To an extent this was ever so slightly amused by Adam's predicament, as its writer and director Jim Jarmusch, here making his first horror movie, was entertained as he moved into his grand old indie statesman period by the thought you could reach an age where you had seen everything you wanted to as far as entertainment went and now were hopelessly jaded, with even the artworks you created yourself lacking the get up and go that distinguished your early years. Adam's rock music is a shoegazy drone, fitting for the hipsters who might well appreciate both it and its composer/musician, for he is something of a hipster himself, taking it for granted he has impeccable taste and stuck within some rigid parameters of what he prefers and dislikes: he gravitates towards integrity and any kitsch is anathema.
Just look at his reaction to the vintage clip of the disco tune Soul Dracula that another visitor makes him watch until he turns it off, it might as well be called Disco Garlic for all the liking he shows. That visitor is the representation of the ageing hipsters' nemesis, not a Van Helsing but the younger generation. Eve's sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) may be very old by human standards, but she's a bright young thing in vampire terms and her exuberant, thoughtless demeanour is not something Adam can easily put up with, which the film demonstrates may be valid judging by what happens when Adam and Eve head off to bed and leave her with Ian. By contrast, Eve is regal and level-headed, with Swinton looking positively translucent in her role as the oldest character, as even John Hurt as playwright Christopher Marlowe (apparently turned late in life) is her junior.
That sense of progress not necessarily meaning benefits could make for a grumpy old man movie, yet Jarmusch doesn't fall into that trap. Keeping any action to a discreet minimum, he crafts the ideal hang out horror movie where we can appreciate the mostly undead folks inhabiting a narrative that slowly but surely pushes them towards their basic needs. This being modern times, the vampire around town can pretty much get as much blood as they want, through sympathetic parties such as Jeffrey Wright as a doctor who supplies the red stuff from the blood bank he has access to in return for wads of cash, but even then the source of their energy can be tainted by disease or general poor health from those who donate it. Get contaminated blood these days and you might as well have a stake through the heart, all you fanged parasites, though Jarmusch compares those who live for the acclaim of others through their art to those who leech the life force of their victims. Even this doesn't prove a turn off, it's food for thought in a vampire flick with something genuinely novel to bring to the hackneyed genre.