Movie Review: What We Do in the Shadows

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A team of documentary filmmakers follow a group of vampires in New Zealand as they go about their unlives.

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Taika Waititi, 2014

Viago (Taika Waititi) is a vampire just trying to get by in the city, seeking out humans to feed . He’s invited a camera crew in to follow the nightly lives of him and his housemates: Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), the youngest “bad boy” of the cohort; Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), a sadist who’s lost his spark; and Petyr (Ben Fransham), who’s lost most of his social skills after 8000 years of existence (and is awesome-looking in a Nosferatu way). Their day-to-day life – balancing the chore wheel, finding victims to eat, antagonising werewolves, and figuring out what to wear when you don’t have a reflection – is interrupted when a young new vampire called Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) makes his way into the group. Tensions rise as young, modern Nick tries to integrate his old life and his new after-life, bringing human friends and a blase attitude towards secrecy into the mix. Viago and his friends struggle to maintain the balance between the human and supernatural worlds in their own awkward way.

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“Occasionally funny, with an offensive poster” – me

This Kiwi mockumentary is an odd duck. It floats by on the awkward charms of its leads, and has fun with some of the tropes of the supernatural movie genre. A few of them feel like they’ve been done – most specifically, this movie reminded me of The Lost Boys (which it directly references once and indirectly references about a bazillion more times), but I frequently had the vague sensation that I’d seen something done better before. I did have a fair few laugh-out-loud moments (Viago, after complaining about the mess, getting blood everywhere; every scene with the werewolves), with the movie picking up steam later despite the introduction of the incredibly irritating Nick. Much funnier is the reaction to his incredibly bland human best friend Stu, who wins everyone over with his knowledge of IT and his total lack of personality. As mentioned, the pack of too-nice werewolves, led by Rhys Darby’s Anton (the “Alpha wolf” who reminds everyone that they’re “werewolves, not swearwolves” – best line of the movie), are the absolute highlight of the film, and the vampires’ dislike of them leads to some pretty decent stand-offs. A few of the jokes about being a vampire in the modern world pay off (trying to get into nightclubs in particular), while others fall terribly flat (Nazi jokes). Despite the low budget, there are some great practical effects, including wires and some fun sequences where they turn into bats. A dinner scene that would be a horror scene in most movies is very funny when shown from the vamps’ perspective.

It’s also a really dude-heavy movie. I can only remember three female roles – a subservient human who was promised eternal life for cleaning up after the boys, an evil ex, and a fellow vamp who gets very little screentime. Every one of the hilarious werewolves is a guy, which I found disappointing – I’d have loved to see a girl werewolf mixing it up. I’d also like to see a movie about Jackie, the aforementioned servile human, who gets one of the more interesting storylines in the movie. Waititi’s awkward dandy Viago has a few good moments, but his character isn’t expanded on enough, while Deacon gets far too much to do and is almost as annoying as Nick. Jemaine Clement provides a few funny gags despite being a pretty disturbing character; his natural comedic abilities shine through in a difficult role. Petyr is a perfect mix of scary and funny, and his scenes are the only ones that really get that balance right – the rest lack fangs. Overall, it’s not a bad low-budget film exploring vampires in a different way with different accents to the ones you normally expect (okay, the housemates all have vaguely Euro Dracula accents, but to various levels of effectiveness), and it’s not a bad movie if you’re interested in the genre.

What We Do in the Shadows on IMDb

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