What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

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When I told my wife that this next one is a New Zealand horror movie, her reaction was “What? Again?” While two films does not a trend make, there are plenty of other examples to suggest that the tiny country is indeed carving a unique niche for itself in the world of cinema. Unlike Housebound, this one is pretty much a pure comedy with horror only as its theme. Its silliness is cemented by how it purports to be a documentary about vampires living in Wellington.

Viago, a 300+ year old vampire, acts as the narrator of this mockumentary as he shows the unseen and unnamed cameramen the workings of his household. He shares a flat with three other vampires, an 8,000 year Nosferatu-like monster named Petyr; Vladislav, a former tyrant from medieval times who has lost much of his power; and Deacon, who at the age of 183 years is considered as the teenaged rebel of the group. After the sun sets, the group, except for Petyr who largely stays by himself in the basement, head out onto the streets of Wellington both for fun and to search for victims. It turns out that despite being a tiny city, Wellington plays host to a varied assortment of supernatural creatures in addition to vampires. This makes for a great platform for all manner of running jokes, including how Viago originally moved to New Zealand out of love for a mortal woman who subsequently married another man, and the character of Stu, an perfectly ordinary and unassuming mortal man who is so liked by all of the vampires of the household that everyone agrees not to eat him and let him hang out at the flat.

Naturally this is light-hearted entertainment, but there’s nothing wrong with that if it’s done well. The writers and directors Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement, who also happen to be the actors playing Viago and Vladislav respectively, have great fun with the incongruity of fantastical monsters dealing with mundane difficulties. The fastidious Viago for example is upset that his flatmates eat so messily and never clean up after themselves. So when he brings a victim back to the house, he takes the extra time to put newspapers under her feet and fasten a bib around his own neck while she chatters on. Not that this does him much good when he accidentally hits an artery and spews blood all over the place. As expected there are plenty of references to other vampire films and I think even a nod or two to the White Wolf RPGs. I especially enjoyed how the vampires can’t help but mercilessly tease the werewolves whenever they meet with dog jokes and the werewolves can’t help but get riled up (“we don’t sniff our own crotches, we sniff each others’ crotches”).

Most of all, I’m pleased that the writing never becomes stupid and the jokes never get ugly. The meanest joke in the film is the identity of Vladislav’s ancient enemy the Beast who caused him to lose most of his powers but everyone can probably see that coming. Everyone involved in this film looks like they’re having a lot of fun and that’s always infectious. This makes What We Do in the Shadows a solid recommendation for me.

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