“What We Do in the Shadows” is the latest offering from New Zealand natives Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement who worked together previously on “Eagle vs. Shark” and most notably on the sleeper cult-hit TV series, Flight of the Conchords, starring the real band of the same name playing hilariously deadpan fictional versions of themselves. Despite all this, their new film marks the first time the pair have co-directed and co-starred, and the results are rather marvelous. Waititi and Clement are Viago and Vladislav, two of four vampires living together in a shared flat in Wellington, New Zealand. Their fellow roommates are Deacon and Petyr, played by Jonathan Brugh and Ben Fransham, respectively. In a useful if not particularly inspired introductory sequence, each vampire is established and we find out what makes them tick.
With “What We Do in the Shadows,” Clement and Waititi prove their dry New Zealand wit to be perfectly intact. Just as first viewings of ‘Flight of the Conchords’ episodes withheld a plethora of jokes-within-jokes, barely audible punch lines and constant satire of the mundane in the background, so too will multiple viewings of the new film likely bring new jokes out of the shadows. That’s not to say there aren’t any stand out jokes or laugh-out-loud moments, because there are more than enough to go around. There is a nice balance throughout of understated wit, zany physical comedy, and smile-along fun.
First and foremost a mockumentary, the film is two-fifths gothic horror and three-fifths dark comedy, and although it isn’t likely to have you screaming with laughter or terror, it does execute (no pun intended) both styles with suave confidence and charm. While some sequences play out like bits from the increasingly popular found-footage horror film genre, they are never scenes of full-on horror. Despite this, the horror special effects are above what one might expect from a film of this kind. However, certain moments do start out horrifically, and occasionally remind viewers that there are real cameramen behind the cameras. Moments like these threaten to veer into “Man Bites Dog” or “Funny Games” territory wherein spectators are implicitly accused of perpetuating the on-screen violence by doing nothing to stop it, but stop just short of ruining the fun. It is not easy to walk the line between outright comedy and horror, but “What We Do in the Shadows” walks it well.
Never losing sight of where it has been or where it wants to go, the film maps out it’s jokes carefully, sometimes dropping mere hints or teases of much larger situations to come. It is well-served by its creators’ combined sensibility for using the element of surprise to great comedic effect. Had the film remained entirely confined to the flat’s four walls, it would have surely dug its own grave, but “What We Do in the Shadows” is far too smart for such a short coming, and uses its primary location without over-using it and moves on before anything has the chance to get too familiar, simultaneously widening the scope of joke possibilities.Continue Reading Issue #29
February 2015 (US limited release)
1 hr. 26 min.
Comedy, Horror, Mockumentary
Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi
Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Rhys Darby, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stu Rutherford