Movie Review: What We Do in the Shadows

Well this one snuck up on me.

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Starring:
Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh
Director:
Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi (Boy, Eagle vs Shark)
Rating: M
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If you enjoyed the two seasons of TV show Flight of the Conchords for more than just its songs, then you’re well on your way to enjoying new vampire mockumentary comedy What We Do in the ShadowsIf you enjoyed the awkward, slightly sad humour of Eagle vs Shark, you owe it to yourself to drop what you’re doing and go see this new film, as it features much of the same talent and a similar spirit. However, What We Do in the Shadows goes further than appeal to regular fans of New Zealand-made comedies, as its supernatural subject matter and unrelenting approach to throwing out punchlines makes it worthy of a much wider recommendation. It may be based on a well-worn theme, but the latest from gifted director Taiki Waititi is fresh and funny.

Unlike much of his previous work, for What We Do in the Shadows Waititi is joined in the director’s chair by Conchords actor Jemaine Clement, who also co-wrote the script. In a nod to its low-budget charm, Waititi and Clement are also the movie’s two leading actors, which is always a good thing, because they’re both great fun to watch. They play Wellington-based vampires Viago and Vladislav respectively, who share a gungy flat with fellow bloodsuckers Deacon (Johnathan Brugh) and Petyr (the monstrously made-up Ben Fransham). Each vampire is from a different century, so the group’s views on life are amusingly at odds with one another. Viago is polite and tidy, Vlad enjoys a bit of old-fashioned torture, Deacon is a carefree playboy and Petyr doesn’t really like to do much.

The real comedic drive of What We Do in the Shadows comes from watching superpowered undead beings dealing with very banal, very human problems. Gags about dishwashing and roommate meetings are accompanied by frustrated complaints about keeping the flat clean after a messy human kill, problematic situations arising from lacking a reflection and sheepish acknowledgement of hum-drum police scolding. It’s all rather surreal and the comic timing is assisted greatly by occasional instances of old-school special effects. The camera’s fake documentary style helps Waititi and Clement to pull off some perspective tricks, wire lifts and the like in conjunction with a sprinkling of CGI to create a pretty cool aesthetic, so there’s always a neat visual trick around the corner to accompany a joke. And it’s such a treat to get a vampire movie that follows traditional vampire stereotypes, complete with all the classic strengths and weaknesses.

What We Do in the Shadows is essentially a collection of funny moments, however, as it doesn’t really do much in the way of story progression. It allegedly follows the oddball gang as they prepare for an important supernatural ball, but there’s no real sense of build-up until very late on. The addition of newbie vampire Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) and his extremely nerdy friend Stu (Stuart Rutherford) to the gang provides opportunities for different types of conflict-based hilarity, as does the cameo of comedian Rhys Darby as the “alpha male” of a pack of apologetic werewolves, but there’s no real linking structure to speak of. When things get truly hairy for the flatmates, the ‘why’ never feels important, and the film drags a little. But then it’s right back to another joke, and the whole movie clocks in at 86 minutes, so it stops just short of outstaying its welcome.

What We Do in the Shadows is well worth a watch for fans of Kiwi comedy and supernatural themes, but more than that, it’s a movie I’d recommend to nearly anyone in the mood for a laugh. The hard-working Waititi and Clement deserve some success with this one, so go see it!

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THE VERDICT

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Good:
Relentless jokes, great practical effects, plays vampire tropes straight for laughs, not too long
Bad:
Not much of a plot
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515/110A M A Z I N G

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