What We Do In The Shadows (2014)
Starring: Jermaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Rhys Darby
Directors: Jermaine Clement, Taika Waititi
A documentary crew films a group of vampires who share a flat in a suburb of Wellington, New Zealand. Viago, Vladislav and Deacon are all human in appearance while their 8000 year old flatmate Petyr resembles the classic Nosferatu image of Count Orlok. Later they are joined by new vampire Nick and his human best friend Stu, as they overcome modern technology, rivalries between each other and a local gang of werewolves and typical vampire problems such as finding virgins to feed off and household chores.
Why should I watch it?
There are several films in your life that, upon first viewing late at night on television or streaming via Netflix or having the DVD forced upon you by a friend, you will sit back and wonder ‘Why have I not seen this before?’ This is one of those movies.
The idea of vampires and other supernatural creatures has long since become embedded in modern day popular culture, from Bram Stoker’s literary classic to the image of Christopher Lee, from the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the more recent Twilight Saga. Audiences know the basic rules (sunlight, stakes, blood sucking) and this ‘documentary’ treats the viewer as an intelligent being, sticking to the briefest of explanations and the ‘show don’t tell’ mantra that all script writers tend should generally adhere to. It is with great relief that rather than present a list of rules, the movie plays on convention and spends its time building characters rather than repeating vampire folklore.
The opening minutes are a great example of this as Viago, a 379 vampire, cautiously pulls back the heavy curtains after waking up, physically flinching at the remote possibility the sun has stayed up and could burn him to a crisp. He then proceeds to wake his flatmates, all playing with various vampire stereotypes such as sleeping whilst hanging upside down, before a house meeting occurs to discuss the lack of washing-up action. The juxtaposition of dull routine with the life of a blood-sucker provides plenty of comedic moments and the human nature of our group of undead, such as jealousy and petty rivalries, allows us to actually empathise with the situations the characters find themselves in.
An example of this is the jealousy portrayed by Deacon when new vampire Nick begins wearing a similar jacket, getting on with his friends, interrupting his dance performance and even turning Deacon’s longterm familiar (read wannabe vampire who will do anything in the hope of becoming one of the immortal undead) into a vampire. Deacon’s petty jealousy, shown by his lack of patience and constant criticism of Nick, is a familiar situation and provides the connection needed to invite the viewer into an unfamiliar world.
The local rivalry with a group of werewolves, led by Rhys Darby (who worked with writers/directors/stars Clement and Waititi on Flight of the Conchords) is also brilliantly done, mixing the familiar with the supernatural and coming full circle by the end of the film. Darby is excellent as an unusual alpha male leader of the pack, encouraging his posse to mind their language (‘We’re Werewolves, not Swearwolves’) and the only disappointing aspect is that we don’t see enough of them. This will soon be rectified as a spin-off movie, titled We’re Wolves, is currently in pre-production.
All the actors bring a wonderful sense of realism to their roles, with performances that border on over the top but are just about pulled off given the subject material on display. Waititi is brilliant as the cleanliness obsessed Viago, while Clement steals many laughs with his portrayal of a once-great vampire almost neutered by a previous relationship. The directing duo happily share great moments with the other cast members and the film is a pure ensemble throughout.
The comedy presented will keep a smile plastered onto your face throughout the movie. There are several highlights, including Nick’s allergy-induced vomit session (vampires can’t eat chips, who knew?), Vladislav’s failed attempt at hypnotising a woman (he settles for an old man instead) and the hilarious chase sequence when the vampires first hunt Nick and illogically appear from every nook and cranny (including Nick’s backpack). The novelty friendship with Stu, a human, is played for laughs as the vampires state their desire to eat him quite openly but the relationship moves beyond this as he teaches them all about modern technology including google and skype.
Several other aspects of the film also work well. The musical soundtrack, a mixture of songs and more traditional scores, fits the black comedy tone perfectly and the film is edited well; reminiscent of many documentaries with a mixture of talking heads, voice-overs and handheld camera work. The costume department appear to have enjoyed themselves as they put together outfits which look dated yet stylish and the mixture of practical and special effects err on the right side of realism. It’s hard to believe the film was made with a budget of $1.6 million US. The movie pulled in just over $10 million US, a success when compared to the budget and limited release in the United States while many critics hailed it as the best comedy of the year. The film currently has a 96% positive rating on movie aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes.
This movie is one to watch, particularly for fans of the Vampire genre and/or mockumentary. Interested? Have a look at the first 6 minutes below and if you enjoy it, buy, rent, download the rest.
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