VOD film review: What We Do in the Shadows (2015)
Ivan Radford | On 30, Mar 2015
Director: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Cast: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh
Read our interview with Rhys Darby about What We Do in the Shadows here.
Viago, Deacon and Vladislav are three flatmates in Wellington. They wake each other up for flat meetings. They go out on the town. They get annoyed at each other for not doing the dishes. And they try not to disturb Petyr downstairs. They’re just normal, typical blokes. Who happen to be vampires.
It’s a simple idea behind What We Do in the Shadows – a mockumentary from New Zealand – but that simplicity makes the humour delightfully complex.
From the moment the desperately eager Viago (Taika Waititi) rouses Vladislav upstairs, only to find a hairy Jemaine Clement surrounded by naked ladies halfway up the wall, it’s clear that this Kiwi comedy is taking its vampiric lore seriously. “Meeting in 10 minutes,” calls Viago, after hurriedly closing the door. Vladislav apparates by the door and opens it quickly. “20.”
The respect for tradition is evident at every level of the silliness, from local nightclubs, where they can’t go in unless the bouncers invite them, to the fearful opening of curtains at 6pm in case sunlight might still be shining. The result is a creative mix of old tropes and new ideas; a revitalising bite to the neck for a genre that has become all too familiar in recent years. One hysterical scene featuring Viago’s “Basgetti” mind control trick is worth the price of a download alone.
The cast throw themselves into it, donning over-the-top costumes and covering themselves in fake blood, but they never lose sight of the naively friendly New Zealander quality that made Flight of the Conchords so endearing. Reunited with Clement after Eagle and Shark, Waititi and his co-director/co-star clearly know their comedy games, repeatedly setting up the right buttons for the other to push. Rhys Darby, meanwhile, steals the few scenes he appears in as a highly amenable werewolf struggling to keep control of his pack. “That’s a good pair of trousers ruined there,” he laments, as one of them puts on jeans instead of jogging bottoms ahead of a full moon.
But what elevates What We Do in the Shadows above a scattershot spoof is the way it uses all of these elements to develop its characters. Viago, it turns out, is longing for his lost love, but in turn is the subject of unrequited feelings from his slave, who irons his frilly shirts in the hope that one day she will become immortal too. Insert a new convert, who keeps bringing his human best friend round for tea, and you have an awkward web of dead and undead loyalties. Into that surprisingly tender set-up flies Ben Fransham’s Petyr, a Nosferatu-like monster (complete with full make-up), who sends the sentimental moments spinning down into genuinely jumpy shocks. Edited and re-edited until its scarily tight, this is a sharply tailored vampire flick that upholds tradition yet sinks its teeth into it with flair. It’s moving, it’s clever, it’s mercilessly quick, but most of all, it’s bleeding funny.