What We Do in the Shadows
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 15th June 2014
The most consistently funny Kiwi film in over a decade, even the tagline is genius. “Some interviews with some vampires” it offers tentatively, perfectly encapsulating the self-deprecation implicit in our local arts industry (“Yeah, nah, we made a movie – it’s OK”) and the wit of nodding to one of the biggest vampire movies of all time while undermining the quote through understatement.
What We Do in the Shadows is Taika Waititi’s follow-up (can you believe it’s been four years?) to the box office hit, Boy. Cleverly, Shadows takes a completely different route through New Zealand’s psyche, capitalising on society’s seemingly inexhaustible fascination with bloodsucking fiends while simultaneously freshening up the whole genre by situating the interview subjects in a grotty flat in present day Wellington. It also proves Waititi’s genuine talent for bringing together a crisp idea with effortlessly engaging actors. The result is a hilariously deadpan, utterly charming insight into the travails of nocturnal living in our capital city.
The mockumentary follows Viago (a devilishly cute Waititi) and his flatmates Vladislav (played by Waititi regular Jemaine Clement, who also co-wrote and directed and is probably now sick of people calling it “Taika’s film” – apologies, Jemaine) and Deacon (doubtless a career-boosting role for Jonathan Brugh). The three are vampires from centuries past who have chosen to settle Down Under, and who won’t let a few hundred years and an antiquated fashion sense impede their attempts to go down to Cuba Street and party like it’s the Middle Ages. Acknowledging the boundaries of not biting their ordinary human mates, life’s biggest dilemma seems to be choosing a nightclub that will invite the fanged friends in.
As the vampires’ story unfolds, punctuated by impeccably created archive footage and old photographs, all the classic traits of the undead are sent up to hilarious effect in a contemporary setting, all the more so because nothing is as funny as a straight-faced Kiwi bloke bemoaning the fact that being a vampire isn’t that different really, except for the “hot-cold, bloody eyes and flying and stuff”. The approachability of these everymen (notably Stuart Rutherford who was little more than a real IT guy called Stu when cast “as himself”) makes for a delightful counterpoint to the main trio’s flamboyant, accented behaviour.
Shadows’ utter brilliance centres in its knack for profiling extraordinary beings in frighteningly ordinary circumstances. Flat meetings cover agendas that will be familiar to all viewers, while dressing for a night on the town raises its own challenges.
The jokes rain down, supported by wonderful cameos by characters who deserve their own spin-off show (a shout-out to police officers O’Leary and Minogue) and the 86 minutes sprint by as quickly as werewolves caught dancing in a park. One hopes the DVD might include more of the 120 hours of shot footage than we’re privy to on the big screen. As it is, I’ll have to go back to the cinema for a second helping.