What We Do in the Shadows (2014, 1 hr, 26 mins)
What We Do in the Shadows. Sounds really ominous, mysterious and a little intimidating, but it’s the title of a vampire “mockumentary” that was a favourite at film festivals last year, and probably one of the funniest horror-comedies I’ve seen in a long time.
A documentary crew follows the everyday lives of four vampires in Wellington, New Zealand. The unofficial den vampire, “dandy” Viago (Taika Waititi), moderates, mediates and civilizes the others, perhaps to bring an understanding of their kind. Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and Vladislav (Jermaine Clement) are rougher than Viago; with Deacon who is all about rebellion, knitting and being sexy, and Vladislav, described as a “pervert”, who is in love with torture. There is also the loner Petyr (Ben Fransham), who is probably better known as Nosferatu, lurking in the basement and barely controllable, but a flatmate all the same. We are introduced to the challenges of vampires living in the modern age, with disgruntled familiars, clubbing, chores, wardrobe, victims and the perils of blood-stained furniture. When fledgling vampire Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) ignores the age-old vampire code, things get messy and dangerous for the undead roomies. Add a pack of rival werewolves, an ancient grudge, and an unholy masquerade, and you have the recipe for bloody and hilarious mayhem.
I’ve said before that I dislike horror comedies because they usually end up being stupid instead of silly, but the folks from Down Under have nailed it again. I don’t know if it’s because of their geographical positioning that gives them such a hilarious view of the world, but whatever it is, it works. Jermaine Clement is a multi-talented performer born and bred in New Zealand that is fast becoming a familiar name in North America. Most would know him from his show Flight of the Concords, a great comedy series about a musical duo from New Zealand trying to make it in America. He was also in Men in Black 3 as Boris the Animal and, in my opinion, stole the show. His fellow Kiwi Taika Waititi has a number of director credits under his belt such as The Inbetweeners and Boy, as well as being a seasoned actor. Here, the two friends since college have written and directed a gem of an indie film, brought over to North America with funds raised from a Kickstarter campaign.
The cast’s comedic timing, honed by years of improv, smoothed over a couple of drawn out scenes, such as Deacon consoling Nick after a loss, that could have stilted the pacing. The fact that they were also friends outside the set conveyed an ease with the characters that made the flatmates’ relationships believable. For a low-budget film, the makeup was also well done. Petyr clearly wore the most special effects makeup, and there was a good balance of tongue-in-cheek and terror with his character, and the practical effects were extremely practical but they worked. Old-school rotating room techniques and wire work gave us plenty of vampire fights and tom foolery to laugh at.
It’s nice to have an iconic horror villain like the vampire come from left field once in a while, and What We Do in the Shadows goes above and beyond to tickle even the sourest funny bone. If and when it comes out on DVD, I will definitely be adding this to my collection!
*If you live in the Toronto area, it is still playing at the following theatres: