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Review: 'What We Do in the Shadows': playing in the shadows

Review: 'What We Do in the Shadows': playing in the shadows

If you ever happened to catch an episode of the MTV reality show The Real World or the mocumentary sitcom The Office, then you will have some idea as to what you are in for with the highly amusing What We Do in the Shadows, which is one of the best mocumentaries since This is Spinal Tap (1984), and is sure to find a place on the list of cult comedy films.

Like many cult classics before it, What We Do in the Shadows is less interested in laugh out loud comedy, and more content with tickling your funny bone throughout.

As the film begins, we learn that a documentary crew has set up their cameras in a creaking old house to observe the lives of four eccentric European flat mates who moved to New Zealand for various reasons, and were brought together because of common ground.

Like any group of men living together in a house, they iron out their differences over responsibilities of doing the dishes, household chores, and how to protect the couch from a messy dinner through scheduled flat meetings.

Yes, they are like any collection flat mates, except for one difference: they happen to be vampires.

The vampire who gels the group together is Viago (played by Taika Waititi who also co-directed and co-wrote the film), a 379 years old fussy vampire who is often foil for the film’s jokes. In contrast to Viago there is Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) aged 183, who is so lazy that his bloody dishes have been lying in the sink for five years! The most colourful character of the group is Vladislav (played in a mirthful performance by Jemaine Clement who co-wrote and co-directed the film).

Vladislav was at one time a powerful vampire who had had hundreds of women, and for pleasure killed men, women, children, and babies by the thousands. This ended when Vladislav was dealt an embarrassing defeat by a foe he nicknamed ‘The Beast’ (who in reality turns out to be someone hilarious). Now he is merely a shadow of the power he once was.

Completing the four is a fierce looking 8000 years old vampire named Petyr (Ben Fransham), a toothy creature so frightening that he occasionally scares his undead flat mates.

What We Do in the Shadows scores most of its laughs through the relationships between the vampires themselves, and the comic examination of their traditional rivalry with werewolves. Whenever our heroes encounter an otherwise pleasant group of werewolves, they try to rile them up in order to turn them. Some of the werewolves respond by cussing angrily at the vampires until the werewolf leader tries to calm his group by asking them to remember that they are ‘werewolves and not swearwolves’.

Another running gag in the mocumentary is that although these vampires are residing in modern New Zealand, they are still living in the cultural norms of the past. The sharply written script humanises the supernatural characters by giving them very human struggles. In amusing scenes the vampires try to adapt to contemporary technology such as texting, Skype, Facebook and Google. 

Surprisingly, the two funniest characters in the film aren’t supernatural creatures at all, at least initially. They are Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), a meal that eventually grows into a pain in the neck for the vampires, and his quiet buddy Stu (Stu Rutherford). The duo offer hysterically deadpan mannerisms in even the most alarming of situations, adding both authenticity to the documentary style of this film as well as some biting humour.

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, April 19th, 2015

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