what_we_do_shadows_2Year: 2014 (2015 U.S. release)
Director: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement
Writer(s): Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement
Region of Origin: New Zealand, U.S.
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 86 mins

Synopsis: Viago, Deacon, and Vladislav are vampires who are finding that modern life has them struggling with the mundane. (Source)

Though there isn’t a straight up lack of vampire films, it isn’t crazy to say that the genre is in desperate need of new blood – and that’s exactly where Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s What We Do In The Shadows comes in. The New Zealand creators behind Flight of the Conchords have brought the same riotous humor they used to dismantle the plight of starving NYC musicians to the vampire genre, and the results are relentlessly clever and funny. It’s a fresh, much needed revitalization of the immortal creatures that is oozing with wit, inventiveness, and even heart, all presented in a faux-doc style that offers new levels of immersion and wicked creativity. Though it’s not exactly scary, there’s plenty of gore, and a loving new perspective of the tropes and archetypes that have made the genre so iconic.

As a secret society of New Zealand vampires prepare for an annual masquerade ball, a small documentary film crew is given all-access to a group of four vampire roommates and their daily activities. Following the centuries-old Viago, Vladislav, Deacon and Petyr, we the viewers get an intimate look at what it’s really like for these bloodsuckers to live at night, in the shadows of society and away from public eye. As it turns out, this endearing group of misfits struggle with some of the same problems we all do, like arguing over who gets to do the dishes and learning how to deal with each other’s eccentricities. It just so happens they also have to deal with a local, rival werewolf gang, find ways to literally get invited into the coolest nightclubs in town and figure out how to properly exsanguinate a victim without getting blood all over the couch.

The strongest aspect of the film is the way that Waititi and Clement use some beautiful production design and smart gags to bring the film’s wild characters and the world they inhabit to life. Nothing from vampire lore is glossed over, from missing reflections, to human familiars (who run errands in exchange for immortality) and even an elder character that looks like Nosferatu’s Count Orlok – all of these ideas are used nicely to to play with and subvert what we expect. The effects are used very smart and at the right time, knowing exactly when to throw in a sudden mid-air showdown, some eerie creature transformations and geysers of blood to switch things up and punctuate all the domestic hilarity. Even the local Wellington suburb is used as a character more than a setting, giving the group of vamps some funny nighttime encounters in a world that feels lived in. Since the film does play out like a big hang out session, there isn’t a need for a tight narrative but subtle arcs and running gags get paid off nicely with an ending that you’ll never see coming.

what_we_do_shadows_1If there’s one thing the film proves though, it’s that there isn’t a weak link in the film’s ensemble consisting of Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macer and Stu Rutherford. Each member of the few is indispensable, each bringing their own unique comic timing to characters that you could literally hold your attention no matter what they’re doing. As Viago, Waititi is the pragmatic one, a soft spoken leader who charms with his keen observations of how silly everything is. As Vladislav, Clement plays an ex-torturer known as “the poker” who gets to be the group’s mysterious bad boy – his deadpan deliveries never miss the mark. Brugh’s Deacon, as the “baby” of the group is the film’s wildcard, bringing a rebellious spirit that offsets his love for knitting. Gonzalez-Macer’s Nick is just as good; getting turned early on in the film, his attempts to earn the approval of his elders open up even more opportunities for chaos. The highlight of the film, however may be a human computer programmer named Stu, played by Stu Rutherford, a meek, unassuming human friend who teaches the vamps how to use modern technology (among other things). Seeing the group fidget with cell phones, digital cameras and more are just the surface of what Rutherford brings to the fold – the running joke is that no one can dislike him, and Rutherford’s understated humor steals the spotlight even without trying. If that weren’t enough, FOTC stalwart Rhys Darby, makes an appearance as the leader of the a rambunctious wolf pack.

What We Do in the Shadows is just the complete package. It’s great natured fun that surprisingly isn’t devoid of humanity or heart, and still manages to challenge the genre in ways that’ll leave you in stitches. This film shows that there’s apparently still more that you can do with the genre if you’re smart, and it’s executed in a way that warrants multiple viewings – especially with a good group of friends.

SG