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New Zealand 2014
Directed by
Taika Waititi / Jemaine Clement
86 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Chris Thompson
4 stars

What We Do In The Shadows

Synopsis: Viago (Taika Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) and Petyr (Ben Fransham) share a house in Wellington, New Zealand. In addition to the usual tensions that come with a share-house they have the added difficulties that come from being vampires who must regularly feed on human blood. When Petyr transforms twenty-something ‘dinner’ guest, Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), into a vampire, they must show him the ropes and guide him through his new-found eternal life. In return they are forced to learn a thing or two about nightclubs, fashion and the internet. But it’s Nick’s human friend, Stu (Stuart Rutherford), that really changes the vampires’ lives and their attitudes towards humans and the modern world.  

The mockumentary has been around for a long time. Woody Allen had an early crack at it in 1969 with Take The Money and Run and post-Python Eric Idle tried his hand in 1978 with All You Need Is Cash before Rob Reiner and Christopher Guest defined the genre in 1984 with This Is Spinal Tap, only to be outdone in 2001 when Ricky Gervais re-defined it with his television series, The Office.  Consequently, it’s become increasingly difficult for more recent mockumentaries not to come off as ‘poor cousins’ to one or both of these two gold standards. So it’s no mean feat that What We Do In The Shadows has so skilfully carved out its own niche in the genre, trading on its droll, deadpan and generally subtle style of humour to give us a genuinely funny and highly enjoyable film. Perhaps it’s not surprising when you consider that Clement was one half of the duo responsible for the hit comedy series, Flight of the Conchords and Waititi was the writer/director of the wonderful 2010 film, Boy. The combination of the silliness found in the former and the comic tenderness of the latter is what sets this film apart. It has a strong story. It has great characters and the absurdity of its premise is tempered by the sincerity of its telling.

But what makes this film work goes beyond the craft of its writers. All the performances are spot-on, striking a delicate balance between having their hearts on their sleeves and their tongues in their cheeks.  There are also plenty of touchstones for the avid vampire film watcher. Fransham’s Petyr is a pure homage to Max Schreck’s quintessential vampire from the 1921 classic, Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror and there is more than a passing nod to the classics of Hammer Horror and the more recent True Blood television series. But, in mining this rich vein (excuse the pun) What We Do In The Shadows avoids mere parody of the more high-camp aspects of the vampire genre to stake (I can’t help myself!) its own claim as a fresh and original comedy.

The comedic style also benefits from excellent make-up and prosthetic work led by Don Brooker and the astute use of great visual effects by Stan Alley and his team. Plus, you have to love a movie that credits a Werewolf Stunt Coordinator, a Vampyrologist and gives prominent funding logo position to the fictitious New Zealand Documentary Board. Oh, and, by the way, speaking of credits, don’t bother waiting until they end ...  because there’s nothing there...  (you’ll understand when you see the film).




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