What we do in the Shadows
Studio: Unison Films, Defender Films, Funny or Die, New Zealand Film Commission
Format : Cinema (Reel Room)
Release Date: September 4, 2014 – Tickets Available Here
The mockumentary style is a favourite amongst smaller film productions with a limited budget. Films like ‘This is Spinaltap‘ and ‘The Blair Witch Project‘ both showed that this style could be used effectively to evoke laughter and horror. Jemaine Clement’s and Taika Waititi’s What we do in the Shadows follows this esteemed style by taking Gothic Vampire horror and framing it within the setting of a share house in modern day New Zealand. There isn’t all that much more to say, it’s a film which parodies the traditional narrative tropes of vampires in popular fiction and by Dracula’s fangs it does do it well…
The film starts off simply enough the audience being introduced to Viago (Taika Waititi) as he engages in his early evening routine of waking his housemates and organising a flat meeting. His housemates include the sexually deviant Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), the lazy Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), and the monstrous Petyr (Ben Fransham). We get a good sense of each of each character in just the first five minutes of the film with their introductions as Deacon is found sleeping upside down in a cupboard, Vlad is caught in the middle of a Vampiric orgy, and Peter’s initial reaction upon being woken is to glare at Viago as he feebly announces that he will be holding a flat meeting in 15 minutes. Viago himself is a polite, adorable, fussy dandy who complains to the other vampires about them leaving bloodstains on his (formerly) green couch when they feed on their victims. His suggestion to the other vampires that they put down newspaper or a towel when they feed perfectly encapsulates the irreverent humour of the film. Take the supernatural elements of the vampire mythos, put it into the context of a modern day sharehouse in suburban New Zealand and hilarity ensues.
The narrative largely sticks to following these characters as they go about their daily (un)lives. We see them at home and when they go out on the town. The routine of their lives is upset however, when Peter decides to create a new vampire out of Nick, one of their victims, rather than just killing him. The newly minted vampire and his best friend, Stu (Stuart Rutherford), then set about bringing his fellows into the contemporary world by introducing them to modern technology and getting them invites into trendy nightclubs (since vampires can’t enter a building without an invitation). However, an individual who has accustomed to using twitter may not exactly be the best at keeping their vampiric nature a secret. Complications arise and hilarity ensues.
The subversion of the traditional tropes of the Vampire Genre are where the movie gets most of its laughs as we see the supernatural characters wash bloody dishes, vacuum their house, and argue over chore wheels. The simple juxtaposition of awesome, supernatural Vampiric abilities being used to achieve mundane goals like cleaning a house is a stroke of comedic genius.
The actors themselves are great in their parts with all of them finding a their niche for their colourful character. Viago is adorable and charming which lets the audience get on his side even as he accidentally bites into the main artery of a victim (which in turn covers him in blood). Nick is played in a wonderful turn as someone who is coming to terms with the transition into immortality and in turn we see him take a certain glee at being able to fly alongside dismay at not being able to eat chips anymore. Of the main characters, Deacon I felt was the least interesting out of the main characters as the narrative gives him little to do besides conflict with the other leads but nonetheless he is played well by Brugh. Honourable mention should also go to Karen O’Leary and Mike Minogue for playing two very polite officers who come to investigate disturbances at the home of the vampires in one of the films best sequences.
Visuals & Audio
Each character is visually distinct in their style of dress with Vlad’s and Viago’s eccentricities being contrasted by Nik’s more casual, contemporary street clothes. A New Zealand vampire in a flannel shirt and jeans amuses me more than it probably should but after seeing the same old tropes in a lot of vampire fiction, it becomes refreshingly subversive to give the traditional suave creature of the night a kiwi accent.
What we do in the Shadows largely fulfils its titular promise with a large number of scenes that are largely shot in the dark of the night with limited lighting. This does mean that the colour palette in the film is somewhat subdued, but it also ensures that the make-up and fake prosthetics on the film’s colourful characters does not stand out too much.
The shots are also largely well composed with the lion’s share of the action occurring in the sharehouse of the vampires which is wonderfully decorated with equal parts dilapidation and antique furniture. The camera work itself works well as well and avoids the common mockumentary trope of shaky camera movements except in several chase and high energy sequences.
Just a heads up, this film is a black comedy and since it deals with the subject of vampires there is copious amounts of gore and guts at various points. It’s largely played for laughs, but those who are easily upset by such things should take care.
The audio itself was sparing in non-diegetic music but for a few instances where horror cliche violin chords were used to elevate tense moments before defusing them in a comedic manner. The music was a lively mix of contemporary pop and Eastern European party music (also known as ‘turbofolk’) which were certainly fitting tunes with some of the characters.
There is a lot of heart in this film and a lot of laughs to be had. The actors are all great in their performances and the scenes are well directed to allow them to showcase their talent. The humour is definitely more subdued than your average slapstick comedy fair, but if you’re willing to go along with the ridiculous juxtaposition of supernatural monsters engaging in household in activities; then you’ll certainly love this film. Overall, it’s a solid black comedy film which deserves to be enjoyed.
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