Tuesday, March 3, 2015

[Review] What We Do In The Shadows

Jemaine Clement ("Flight of the Conchords") and Taika Waititi (Director the of 2010's underrated Boy) write/direct and star in this brilliantly funny and gleefully clever take on vampires. The vampire angle is significantly more traditional here, as opposed to the contemporary big studio flicks you might see in major theaters, or even Jim Jarmusch and Spike Lee's recent social commentary films in Only Lovers Left Alive and Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, respectively, yet What We Do In The Shadows is way fresher and more alive than any of the above.

Set up as a mockumentary, the film looks into the lives of four vampire roommates Viago (Taika Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), and Petyr (Ben Fransham) that dwell in a Wellington mansion. Each character is a type, ranging from a rugged and former Vlad The Impaler-like dude, to a ghastly recluse that resembles Count Orlok. But they all have enough human dimension and clashing personalities to make them feel like full-bodied characters. They're all a bit awkward and out-of-touch as well, making this a "Not-so Modern Family" of sorts. We see their antics in attempting to thrive in society, and yes, they do indeed leave the house sometimes.

The deadpan style hits all the right spots when mining humor from the vampires' everyday activities (it's been five years since anyone has done the dishes), and it twists tropes from the vampire, mockumentary, and horror found-footage genres in ways that are too hilarious and smart to be written off as gimmickry. On the way home after a night of clubbing, the guys inform the camera crew: "I can smell werewolves... We're just about to walk past some werewolves, so some shit might go down," like the creature version of a Jersey Shore episode. And that's one of the less subtle examples.

What We Do In The Shadows might sound like an odd concept, but it's completely accessible and enjoyable throughout. And while vampires are usually considered to be "cold" beings, there's even a some warmth and poignancy injected. The vampires here can be viewed as occupants trying to find their way in a country that is constantly foreign to them. And despite the characters' differences, the one thing they all have in common (well, aside from the bloodthirst) is the fact that they have to cope with seeing their mortal friends die, for years and years. But it always comes back to the comedy.


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