If you’re anything like me, you’ve grown tired of the stale and repetitive sinkhole that the vampire genre has become over the past half-decade or so, where every Let The Right One In has unfortunately been met with a dozen Dracula Untolds, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunters, or (dare we mention) Vampire Academies. The genre was derailed by a shift into more widespread teen popular culture following the Twilight craze, resulting in less original and groundbreaking content despite a flood of films and television series hitting the market. Thankfully, writer/director duo Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) and Taika Waititi (Boy, Eagle vs Shark) are doing their part to steer the train back on course with their hilarious new film What We Do in the Shadows, which plays like a mockumentary in the spirit of This is Spinal Tap, and brings fans the best vampire-comedy in a long, long time. Winner of the TIFF Midnight Madness People’s Choice award last year, Shadows is just an absolute delight from beginning to end, delivering big laughs and making great use of the various motifs and clichés that are typical of the genre.
The film centres on four New Zealand flatmates named Viago (Waititi), Vladislav (Clement), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and Petyr (Ben Fransham) who just so happen to be centuries-old vampires from different historical periods living under the same roof. Allowing a documentary crew the opportunity to film them in their everyday lives, the bloodsuckers offer insights into the daily obstacles and hardships they face while attempting to live in secrecy within the modern world. Soon however, their house is flipped upside down when would-be victim Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) is turned into one of them instead of killed, and he and his rebellious attitude are added into the mix as their new roommate.
Aside from the refreshing concept and fun, improvisational writing style, there is one element in What We Do in the Shadows which really makes the whole concept come together, and that is the amazing chemistry between the main cast. Waititi, Clement and Brugh are all exceptional as the three main leads, coasting through the film with ease as they explore and indulge in their characters’ peculiarities and skewed world views – influenced by centuries of undead existence on this planet. The mundane daily routines and hilarious inside jokes provide some of the films funniest moments, and the loose story structure allows for a great deal of play in regards to dialogue and performance, where the talents of the cast can really show through. Gonzalez-Macuer offers a great addition as the “new guy” Nick thanks to the contrasting character dynamic he provides to the group, and Stu Rutherford is also fantastic as Nick’s human friend – appropriately named Stu – who has an inherent likability that saves him from being eaten by the gang. Flight of the Conchords veteran Rhys Darby also makes an appearance as the leader of an opposing gang of surprisingly polite werewolves (that’s werewolves, not swearwolves).
Despite the occasionally meandering nature of its plotting, What We Do in the Shadows actually moves at a brisk pace and has an overall lightness to its tone which makes it very easy to watch, and even easier to like. The creators have done a great job of incorporating practical visual effects in a very effective way as well, exploring the different transformative and levitational powers of a vampire within a real-world context, and using smart visual tricks to pull everything off in a seamless fashion. The reality TV shooting style also helps to make the film even more digestible and efficient for wider audiences, leaving things open for potentially endless continuation of the story which makes one consider the incredible television series that could one day be born from its ashes, should Clement and Waititi choose to go in that direction for a follow-up. As it stands, this is yet another fantastic crowd-pleasing horror/comedy to emerge from New Zealand, and one which breathes some much-needed life into the undead corpse of the vampire genre.
R A T I N G : 4 . 5 S T A R S
What We Do in the Shadows opens today at the Scotiabank Theatre. What better way to celebrate Friday the 13th?
Stay tuned to Addicted in the coming days for my interview with Jemaine Clement and Stu Rutherford!