'What We Do in the Shadows'
Those bloodsucking beasts known as vampires have been kicking around the movie universe since the silent era. They’ve taken many forms from feral beasts to shirtless dreamboats who can’t act. Somehow, filmmakers always find something new for our beloved creatures of the night to do. In ‘What We Do in the Shadows’, co-writers/directors/stars Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi give vamps the mockumentary treatment. Their hilarious dark comedy will likely go down as the funniest film of 2015.
Of course, it’s still early in the year, so some more yukfests should clog up cinema screens soon. However, I find it hard to believe that many will match the pants-wetting charms of this New Zealand delight.
‘What We Do in the Shadows’ picks up the trail of a household of domestically awkward vamps kicking around small town New Zealand. They’ve been best buds for centuries and now share a house where they go about their blood-sucking business casually and with plenty of discomfort. Viago (Taika Waititi, also writer/director of Clements’ comedy ‘Eagle vs. Shark’) is a dandy from an era when dandies ruled the world, and can’t quite fit into non-dandy times. Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) was a “poker” from an age of impalers. His hypnotic sex god charms, mind-control skills and transformation powers haven’t quite been the same since he was broken by an ex-girlfriend known as “The Beast.” Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) is the sassy youngster of the group at a mere 183 with plenty of attitude.
Meanwhile, in the basement dwells the ancient Petyr (Ben Fransham), an 8,000-year-old beastly Nosferatu relic who turned most of the team over time. Together, the gang bitches about dirty dishes and struggles to get invited into nightclubs over the course of their pathetically funny little lives. Circling our weirdoes are the middle-aged human slave Jackie (Jackie Van Beek), the freshly turned douchebag vampire Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), his loveably monosyllabic computer expert friend Stu (Stuart Rutherford), and a pack of werewolves led by the great Rhys Darby who the fanged fellows like to feud with.
It’s all pretty silly and endearing stuff that unfolds episodically and delightfully. Clement and Waititi know that the secret to this brand of comedy lies in the rambling diversions rather than a piecemeal plot, so that’s their focus. Eventually, it all peaks Christopher Guest-style with a municipal monster party at a local wedding hall, but even then the best material is in the details (like how zombies are presented as the outcasts of the underworld).
The cast is ridiculously good from top to bottom. Each creates a distinctly awkward character perfectly designed to clash with the rest. It’s clear that improv played a healthy role in the shenanigans, yet Clement and Waititi also reveal their genre-fan roots by staging a handful of genuinely effective effects sequences. This gang is all from New Zealand, of course, which thanks to Peter Jackson has become a visual effects Mecca. With a meager budget and big ambitions, the team pulled off some pretty great tricks involving rotating sets, flying fights, strange transformations, and geysers of spewing blood. The spectacle is all deliberately tossed off to look casual and fits into the style of the piece. But look closely and you’ll see some impressive work along with some delightfully disgusting gore gags that recall Jackson’s long lost gory glory days.
‘What We Do in the Shadows’ unapologetically goes for laughs at all times. The characters are incredibly well written and performed, and the world is evocatively designed, but one of the most refreshing things about the flick is its complete lack of pretension. It’s clearly a project made by passionate friends who grew up wearing down ‘Spinal Tap’ VHS tapes while flipping through the pages of Fangoria. The fact that the movie combines the genres Clement, Waititi and the rest love makes it very personal, so you can feel the glee from everyone involved. This is a movie designed for cult status by a group of talented comedians and filmmakers raised on consuming cult movies at a feverish rate. They’ve made something pretty damn special that will hopefully find its own cult quickly.
This is the vamp mock-doc you’ve been waiting for, even if you didn’t realize you’ve been waiting for it. Jump aboard as soon as possible. If we’re lucky, this gang will be allowed to do it again.