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  What We Do in the Shadows Biting WitBuy this film here.
Year: 2014
Director: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Stars: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stuart Rutherford, Ben Fransham, Rhys Darby, Jackie van Beek, Elena Stejko, Jason Hoyte, Karen O'Leary, Mike Minogue, Chelsie Preston Crayford, Ian Harcourt, Ethel Robinson
Genre: Horror, Comedy
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: In Wellington, New Zealand, not many people are aware of the nightlife there. Not the clubs and bars, but the folks who exist outside of daylight hours, specifically the vampire community, and to shine a spotlight on the culture a local film crew has been allowed access to a house where four of the creatures live. The filmmakers all wear crosses and have the subjects' sincere guarantee that they will not be harmed, so they have nothing to fear for having their blood drained inadvertently, which offers plenty of time for us as viewers of this documentary to observe and understand the vampires as they go about their business. Of varying ages but all of European extraction, they will surprise the audience wanting to know more, and some drama may be captured...

What We Do in the Shadows was another collaboration from actors-writers-directors Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, who had worked together before on the cult hit Eagle vs Shark, but if anything this garnered an even stronger following. The comedy took its cue from the Belgian horror film Man Bites Dog, which too adopted as its plot a film crew traipsing around after a killer, only in this effort the humour was less withering and caustic and more after the fashion of mockumentaries Christopher Guest crafted through improvisation, thereby making it the This is Spinal Tap of vampire movies. If it wasn't quite as consistently funny as that, nor as savagely insightful as the Belgian work, enough of it hit the mark it was aiming for.

Indeed, there were gags in this, all the more impressive for being thought up on the hoof, that were genuinely hilarious, and that stemmed from the approach of making the supernatural amusingly banal and mundane, as it would seem to you if you were an immortal being whose love of life - or undeath - had been worn down through centuries of the same damn thing after another. After all, once you'd fed, what else was there to do but hang around aimlessly until the sun rose, whereupon you would be back in your lair, sound asleep until you repeated the process for the umpteenth time. This sense of the grindingly ordinary affecting even the most remarkable of beings proved a rich source of the jokes, that juxtaposition of the fantastic and the tedious.

At first we see how the tedium is wearing thin on the quartet, with an argument about who cleans up and does the dishes leading to a hissing, floating face-off, and that sets the tone: the amazing brought down to earth with a thud. Two of the four bloodsuckers were played by the directors: Clement was a Vlad the Impaler-style Eastern European chap called Vladislav and Waititi was a younger dandy called Viago who had wound up in New Zealand after following a lost love, only for a lack of postage on his coffin leading him to arrive eighteen months late and with the object of his affection long since settled and married. This doesn't stop him pining for her by hanging around outside her retirement home, the now-ninetysomething oblivious to his presence.

Scenes like that spoke to a poignancy regarding the march of time that the film didn't do much to capitalise on; they were present, but not really as effective as the moments where they went all out to make you laugh. The plot, as much as something this casually constructed could be called as such, saw a new member in their small clan, Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), who is lured by Jackie (Jackie van Beek) who is the familiar of the deeply insensitive Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) - the fourth vampire is a Nosferatu sort who has no lines. Nick is turned instead of simply drained, and becomes a problem, though he does bring Stu (Stuart Rutherford), a software analyst, into the fold, bringing them up to date with technology newer than a wind-up gramophone. But Nick begins to tell all and sundry of his new status, and soon they are in jeopardy, as are the various other subcultures like the werewolves (led by Rhys Darby playing it like a social worker). It doesn't look like it's going to end happily, and you could argue it eventually won't, but for a shadowy story this was bright and engaging. Music by Plan 9.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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