What We Do In The Shadows (2014)

What We Do In The ShadowsIn the months leading up to The Unholy Masquerade, Wellington’s premier ball for the undead, a documentary crew follows vampire flatmates Viago (Taika Waititi), Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and Petyr (Ben Fransham) as they prepare for the big night. In addition to the usual tensions that flare within flatshare situations — Deacon hasn’t done the dishes in years — the foursome also have less familiar issues to contend with: Viago has unrequited feelings for a woman a fifth of his age; Vladislav is locked in an war of words with his nemesis, The Beast (Elena Stejko); Deacon is struggling with a rebellious retainer, Jackie (Jackie Van Beek), his frustrated human familiar; and Petyr has sired a university student (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) who won’t leave them alone. To top it all off, they can’t seem to leave the flat without running into a pack of local werewolves.

Written and directed by stars Waititi and Clement, both alumni of multi-media comedy troupe Flight of the Concords, What We Do In The Shadows is a feature-length adaptation of the pair’s 2006 short film of the same name. A mocumentary in the vein of André Øvredal’s TrollHunter, the film seeks to expose the truth behind the myth — that vampires are just as concerned with common courtesies as they are with slaughtering virgins — and in so doing embrace the underlying absurdities of the horror genre. By treating their subject with the utmost seriousness and sincerity, Waititi and Clement ask what it would really by like to be a centuries-old vampire living in modern-day New Zealand. How, for instance, do vampires get ready for a party without the assistance of a mirror? How do familiars choose their master’s victims? And how does one protect one’s furniture from arterial spray?

Vampires are certainly ripe for the picking. Bloodsuckers have never been more popular, but while this renewal of interest hasn’t gone unnoticed by satirists they have tended to lampoon individual films — namely, Twilight — rather than the folklore underpinning them. The best gags are the most intuitive, and in many ways the most obvious, with special attention being drawn to the characters’ hypnotic abilities, their great age and their need to be invited in. There’s some great character humour too, and when you’re not smirking at Vladislav’s inability to transform into a convincing animal you’re smiling at myriad other affectations that have nothing to do with his vampiric abilities. And then there’s Petyr, by far the oldest of the four and the one who most closely resembles a creature of the night (Nosferatu, specifically); even in a room full of demons he looks conspicuous, and any scene is improved simply by his silent inclusion.

Unfortunately, while always amusing What We Do In The Shadows is rarely outright hilarious. In some scenes it seems that the cast assume that they have to do little more that turn up to have the audience in stitches; but while Flight of the Concords fans might disagree these scenes instead come across as either complacent and indulgent. It feels ramshackle and rushed, and the provisional air isn’t helped by the inconsistent accents and low-fi production values. Waititi and Clement don’t seem to care whether their audience believes in their conceit, and while the roughshod nature of their film has its charms it can also be incredibly frustrating. There’s no doubt that any amateurishness is completely intentional, but that doesn’t mean it’s any more welcome. Discipline is as important to comedy as anarchy, and yet in this area at least What We Do In The Shadows is distinctly lacking.

Witty and well-observed, What We Do In The Shadows certainly has its moments, but sadly it lacks the commitment and conviction needed to pursue larger laughs. In the end, it’s just a little bit B-.

3-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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