With Christopher Guest and his gang pretty much retired from film, the mockumentary movie genre needs a new gang to take reigns and co-writers/directors Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement make a pretty damn convincing case that they should be the guys to do it with What We Do in the Shadows. The fact that they managed to take such a familiar comedic format and spice it up with the even more overplayed subject in vampires is just further evidence that these comics are the real deal. The film is so funny that it’s almost unfair and races by at such a fevered pace it’s hard not to feel a little sad once it’s over. It’s been a little while since any comedy pulled that off, let alone a mocumentary. Hit the jump for all the hilarious bloodsucking details.
In addition to writing and directing, Waititi and Clement also co-star at the center of a household of vampires who are the subject of government funded New Zealand documentary. The four flatmates have known each other for centuries, with Clement having calmed down quite a bit form his impaling days (well, he prefers the term “poking” to avoid obvious confusion), Waititi coming off as an old timey dandy, Jonathan Brugh popping up as the inevitably agreeable roommate (mostly in regards to his dishwasher duties), and Ben Fransham offering a pet/flatmate given that he’s a Nosferatu-style creature. As to what the gang get up to? Well, it’s about as mundane as possible. The bicker about the chore wheel, hypnotize women to do those chores, desperately try to get invited into nightclubs (you know, vampires, invitations and all), feud with stinky werewolves, watch sunsets on YouTube, and suck a little blood whenever possible.
The central joke of the movie is simply playing classic vampire schtick as mundane for laughs. You could argue that it’s the only joke in the entire film and wouldn’t be wrong, but the good news is that it’s such a great joke that Waititi, Clement, and their cast are able to deliver with many variations that it never gets old. There’s a slight semblance of a plot involving a newly turned vampire trying to join the group and causing a ruckus. That’s just an incidental thread at best though, just enough material to get the running up to 85 minutes without feeling like a stretch. As filmmakers and performers, Waititi/Clement are amongst the few folks to knock off the Chris Guest’s style who understand how important it is to helping build and shape a community rather than just offering a chance for disconnected direct address laughs. There’s a genuine love for these characters and a fully fleshed out world with even tertiary characters (like Rhys Darby’s briefly glimpsed werewolf who is very adamant about wearing stretchy pants on transformation night) who feel so well rounded that the movie could easily spiral off and follow them instead.
The big twist that Waititi/Clement bring to the Guest formula is the use of special effects. They have they’re goofy characters transform into bats, fight up the walls of rotating sets, distort reality, spout blood, and hunt through some damn impressive set pieces. Yet, the filmmakers wisely never call attention to the effects, tossing them off just like everything else and delivering even more impressive work for it. The film might not exactly pack scares, but it’s got gore and honors the dark and supernatural side of vampires enough to work for horror aficionados as well as comedy nerds. What We Do In The Shadows is one of those little movies so good that they’re easy to take for granted. The ambitions are small, yet are fulfilled perfectly. Waititi/Clement wants nothing more than to elicit giggles and entertainment. They do it. Now go appreciate it before the inevitable cult finds it.
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