Both vampires and mockumentaries are given fresh blood with hilarious results.
What We Do in the Shadows
The sometimes subtle, sometimes ridiculous, alternative humor of the New Zealand comedy scene appears to be a category that one either loves wholeheartedly or knows nothing about. Taika Waititi (Boy) and Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords, Eagle vs Shark) are right at the heart of this burgeoning comedy scene and their latest collaboration, What We Do in the Shadows, is yet another step up in their hysterical reign. Premiering at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, the film doesn’t sound all too promising on paper. Yet another mockumentary, which are always very hit (Best in Show) or miss (Bruno), this one follows a group of vampires Real World style in the months leading up to a large masquerade for the undead. But Waititi and Clement are true to their deadpan and amusingly naïve approach to characters, presenting a farcical and truly funny take on an overdone subject.
Taika Waititi’s boyish face is put to great use as Viago, a 317 year old vampire who sweetly welcomes his documentarians, eager to present a benevolent and modern look into the life of the average vampire. He lives with his three roommates in a Victorian-style home with thick curtains and outdated wallpaper outside of Wellington. First is Vladislav (Clement), a much older and Dracula-esque vampire with a more sexual appetite but a failing libido due to a past shaming by a particularly loathsome vampire named “The Beast.” Second is Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), a younger vampire at only 183 years old, who Viago calls the “bad boy” of the outfit. And last is the rarely seen, Count Orlok-style vampire Petyr (Ben Fransham), who at over 8,000 years old can hardly be asked to contribute to roommate meetings.
Based on a 2006 short film of the same name made by Waititi and Clement, the film provides insight into many of the typical vampire scenarios. Their lively night-life and having to deal with the problem of trying to get into clubs when bouncers don’t actually invite you in. There is the heartbreak of not aging while your love interest moves on and grows old. Not to mention run-ins with the local werewolf pack, who are really trying to adjust their image: “We’re werewolves, not swear-wolves.” (The pack is led by Flight of the Conchords alum Rhys Darby as Anton.) Deacon must put up with his Familiar Jackie (Jackie van Beek) who does his every bidding but is getting particularly antsy to get her end of the bargain and be made into a vampire. Then there is the issue of finding food, virgins being preferable.
One particular evening Jackie brings over what she assumes are two virgins, one being Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), her ex-ex. After a frightening chase throughout their dark home, and an especially jarring example of Vlad’s stunted shape-shifting abilities, Nick is attacked by the feral Petyr and turned into a vampire. The rest of the film focuses on Nick’s transition as a new vampire, searching for acceptance with the other guys and trying to maintain a friendship with his best friend Stuart while simultaneously wanting to eat him. His cocky bravado around his new status as a vampire leads to plenty of dissent among the guys as well as dangerous ramifications for one of the group.
The film uses seamless visual effects, amusingly showing the vampire’s ability to become bats, to disappear in mirrors, and the hilarious ramifications of attempting to eat normal food. With the gothic lighting of the vampire’s house, and the singular camera light providing a reminiscent found-footage horror feel, the movie maintains a spooky mood at the very times it most makes fun of itself. Mostly it’s the excellent presentation of vampires-as-normal-people that makes for plenty of comedic-fodder and is what makes the film work so effortlessly. Of course, in typical fashion of anyone who has seen past samplings of the filmmakers’ works knows they aren’t afraid to take things up a notch, and an especially bloody scene towards the end inserts some ironic gravitas but doesn’t try for too much sentimentality.
In one of the film’s most golden scenes, a pair of cops show up to the house to investigate loud noises (Nick and Deacon fighting). Viago uses his best attempts to hypnotize them into not seeing anything out of the ordinary which makes for some especially laugh-out-loud moments as they come upon a corpse and warn the gentleman to take better care of their drunks friends. Waititi and Clement have put together a welcome edition to the mockumentary-comedy genre presenting characters that are both endearing and lovably dangerous. What We Do in the Shadows presents the sort of gags that will continue to garner laughs upon multiple viewings and is a refreshing look at vampires, giving them new life (or death?) while playing off of our sentiment for their kind.
What We Do in the Shadows is now playing in the Los Angeles area, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, DC, Seattle, San Diego, the Bay Area, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, and Ottawa.