Thursday, November 5, 2015

They do not go blah blah blah: What We Do in the Shadows


It took me longer than I wanted to get to this New Zealand-produced vampire rockumentary. The wait was worth it. Co-written, co-directed, and co-starring Jemaine Clement ("Flight of the Conchords") and Taika Waititi, the film follows a group of vampires as they prepare for a nationwide gathering of vampires.

Fans of the vampire subgenera will recognize a number of vampire tropes: Clement plays Vladislav, a traditional Dracula type bloodsucker. Waititi plays Viago as more of the lovelorn Anne Rice-style vampire. Jonny Brugh is Deacon, again along the Anne Rice line but more of a mix of Lestat and Louis and is less than 200 years old compare to Viago and Vladislav who both approach 900 years of age. Petyr (played by Ben Fransham), a Nosferatu-style vampire, is "thousands of years old" and turned both Deacon and Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer). Nick is turned during the course the film and is the brash upstart, telling everyone he is a vampire.

Then there is Stu. Stu isn't a vampire. Stu is Nick's best friend who becomes tech support for the flatmates, even introducing Viago to Skype.

Shenanigans ensue and there isn't really a plot. Remember, this is a "documentary," meant to be a slice of unlife for this group of fiends. We don't need a plot to enjoy the jokes or love the characters.

While Clement and Waititi have top billing, Brugh as Deacon steals the show. He's involved in all the best jokes, including an early argument about Deacon not having done the dishes in five years. Whether it's a fight between Deacon and Nick or just Deacon rambling on about how becoming a vampire makes one automatically sexy, he is allowed to blossom and follow the paths of weirdness that the concept of the film is perfect for.

My personal favorite moment is when the vampires are walking home and pass a pack of werewolves. The werewolves, led by Rhys Darby (Murray Hewitt in "Flight of the Conchords"), are a modern bunch. They snarl and growl at the vampires and threaten to change. It comes off farcical and highlights the accusations that the vampires are just faking it. As viewers, we have enough evidence to believe in the vampires and therefore must believe in the werewolves. It pays off and spells near disaster for our heroes. Like his character in "Conchords," Darby is perfectly cast as the "alpha male" in that he's barely smarter than the rest of his pack and has to tell everyone he's in charge in order to validate his position at the top. (In reviewing his CV, I noticed that Darby will be in an episode of the upcoming "X-Files" revival. Excellent.)

The werewolf conflict encapsulates the essence of the film: yes, it gets serious for a minute, but in being serious shows just how much the film does not take itself seriously. It's all a joke and a brilliantly played one, at that. There's even a Lost Boys joke that pokes fun at the genre and tropes as a whole. If you do take your vampire lore too seriously (or if you are deeply ensconced in a "Vampire: The Masquerade" game and can't get out), you might think What We Do in the Shadows is making fun of you. Guess what? You're right. Instead of getting mad, enjoy the laugh. After all, it is better to be in on the joke.

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