What We Do In The Shadows, 2014.
Directed by Jemaine Clement
Starring Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer and Stuart Rutherford
A group of vampires invite a New Zealand camera crew into their home where they observe them do everything from feeding on the blood of virgins to deciding who does the dishes.
Vampires are one of the rare supernatural concepts which have never really gone away in film. Unlike, say, zombies which experience cycles of popularity, vampires have long since surpassed any criticisms regarding their quantity and have instead become their own genre. ‘Horror’ is a sub-definition within a vampire film, and not vice-versa. This makes the notion of any new idea within this genre worth exploring, something which Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi have done with What We Do In The Shadows. The film takes a handful of vampires and applies the mockumentary format to their everyday lives, following them as they mix immortality with mundanity. It’s the type of idea that makes you wonder if it hasn’t already been done, and while the supernatural being made mundane has been done and done well, …Shadows is the logical conclusion of this concept.
The film begins with four vampires: Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), Viago (Taika Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and Petyr (Ben Fransham), who have allowed a camera crew to monitor their activities as they go about their lives. Vladislav represents the type of vampire made famous by Anne Rice; seductive, powerful and hypnotic, while Petyr hails from the Nosferatu school of vampyr – all four of them, however, are nothing if not human. Viago is the closest thing we have to a narrator – a sweet, socially-awkward creature of the night whose first action is to call a house meeting and discuss why the chores aren’t being done. Deacon is the youngest of the group (189-years-young) and considers himself quite the ladies’ man, despite his predilection for transmogrifying into a dog and mating with whatever he can find. Following our introduction to all four members of the house the film then sets about not to take a hammer to the vampire mythos, but rather bring it into the light of day and inspect it for cracks. Almost every scenario presented is one familiar to any audience, albeit filtered through the harsh realities of immortality. The film itself reflects the aimlessness of four men sharing eternity and as such lacks a concrete story, but luckily for Shadows the humour works well and frequently.
Anyone familiar with the format will be aware of the type of jokes that await them -talking head segments contradicting what we see, improvised dialogue, protracted scenes of awkwardness- but they’re no less delightful when they arrive. The humour is consistent throughout and deftly straddles both genres, with horror informing the comedy and not simply being a launchpad for irrelevant ramblings. The performances are all pitch perfect, especially Waititi’s puppy dog Viago who comes across as a child who has been given permission to show off his toys, to Stuart Rutherford’s turn as everyman Stu – a sea of calm amongst werewolves, vampires, ghouls and ghosts. It is sometimes the case that thanks to over-familiarity of the mockumentary format some of the jokes are rather predictable, and it can become easy to cycle through vampiric attributes in your mind and then wait for them to be made boring. This is a minor gripe though as the majority of humour is clearly derived from hours of improvisational comedy between seasoned comedians, tightly edited and aided by well deployed bursts of special effects. Shadows is in fact filled with both perfectly executed practical and special effects; arteries gush, gravity is defied and bats bicker. The humour in these instances usually stemming from nothing more than allowing these high concepts to play out exactly as they would in reality.
The direction is only good as the format allows it to be, but Clement and Waititi have perfectly aped the style made famous by The Office. The camera skulks throughout the house, catching moments of absurdity and emotional honesty as we view the vampires’ daily activity in and around the city of Wellington. The New Zealand setting benefits the film tremendously (although presumably one born out of necessity and not choice), with immortality clashing against half-empty Wellington pubs and even the accent itself lending verisimilitude to a film which requires it to work. If you’re a fan of vampires then Shadows is a refreshing alternative to your regular consumption, and if you’re not then it’s a perfect window into that same world.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★