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Advance Review – What We Do In The Shadows  

A still from Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi's horror comedy What We Do in the Shadows.
A still from What We Do in the Shadows.

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Vampires are in fashion yet again, but you wouldn’t know it watching Jemaine Clement’s (of Flight Of The Conchords fame) hilarious, clever and very touching mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows – or Vat Ve Do In Ze Shadows, to be more accurate.

Following a trio of centuries-old bloodsuckers, who share a house in contemporary Wellington, NZ, the film, and indeed its subjects, attempts to educate us on the everyday lives of this most mysterious of mythical creatures. The vampires’ intentions are clear from the outset: they wish to quash stereotypes and show how normal and civilised a bloodthirsty, un-dead beastie really is.

Aside from finding virgins to feast on (because drinking the blood of virgins is cooler), the lads must figure out how to be invited into the best nightclubs, what outfits to wear when they have no reflections on which to judge their options, and whose turn it is to do the dishes. Suffice to say, writing-directing duo Clement and Taiki Waititi have their tongues firmly lodged in their cheeks, presenting the vampires as immortal creatures with years of ravishment and murder behind them, who somehow still think they’re way cooler than they actually are.

Both also take starring roles, with Clement playing lothario and legendary torturer Vladislav The Poker, and Waititi his polar opposite in friendly, upbeat Viago, who serves as the unofficial narrator of their story. A sweet, arguably quite kind-hearted bloke, Viago tries his best to implement the use of a chore wheel, pines over a lost love (who is now pushing 90 and living in a nursing home), and takes his victims out on nice dates so their final moments are happy. He’s also charmingly clumsy, always managing to hit the main artery when he chomps down on the neck of an unsuspecting human.

The four main characters at the heart of What We Do In The Shadows each recall a certain section of vampire lore, with muted Petyr (Ben Frensham) bearing more than a passing resemblance to Salem’s Lot’s Count Orlok. Their hilariously garish outfits boast all of the usual vampire staples; leather, velvet and even frilly blouses – but they confess to stealing victims’ clothes if they like them enough, and they aren’t too covered in blood, of course.

For much of the movie, they live quite an easy life, unfazed by the demands of modern society, but it is in their interactions with impulsive, newly-turned Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) and his unassuming buddy Stu (Stuart Rutherford) – who extols upon them the virtues of the internet, among other things – where the heart of the story is truly exposed. Clement and Waititi aren’t making fun of vampire tropes, they’re celebrating them.

References to Twilight are present, but dispensed with ease and not relied upon to make a lazy point about just how silly these guys really are. The tone is Spinal Tap, as opposed to Scary Movie, the jokes subtle, thoughtful and thought-provoking. Certain, key sequences (a so-called “exotic dance” is particularly memorable) beg for a re-watch, even while you’re watching them, and everything is played exceptionally straight and deadpan.

What’s perhaps most striking about What We Do In The Shadows, considering it’s a vampire mockumentary, is the attention to detail. The filmmakers’ love of horror is obvious, with about a million on-the-nose references, along with gallons of fake blood and some intentionally ropey bat transformations. The make-up and SFX are well-judged, with the vamps white enough to look convincingly dead but not so pale that their interactions with members of the public come off as rehearsed, or overly contrived.

Much of the laughs – and it is a painfully funny film – come from the central trio’s inability to behave like normal people, and their desire to simultaneously blend in and stand out in modern society. But it is, essentially, a very touching portrayal of a group of friends, trying to find their way in a world they still don’t quite understand.

A tussle with a group of local goody-goody werewolves (“We’re werewolves, not swearwolves” scolds the alpha) provides another layer to the narrative, while Jackie Van Beek, as the only female (a try-hard human and working mother, desperate to be turned), quietly cleans up bloodied bathrooms, makes lists of possible victims and angrily reveals to the camera crew that, if she had a penis, she would be a vampire by now.

Considering this is Clement’s first time in the directing chair, What We Do In The Shadows is a remarkably assured debut. Waititi has directed his friend on several occasions, both in Conchords and in the charming Eagle Vs Shark and their onscreen interactions boast the natural, easy rapport of lifelong friends. Their partnership on this project makes sense, as their writing styles blend together perfectly. For Conchords fans, the humour may be slightly broader than anticipated, but stick with it and it will soon become impossible to resist.

Promotion has been pretty minimal thus far, but horror fans should get behind What We Do In The Shadows because it is, by all accounts, a love letter to our beloved genre. Those of us living in the UK were lucky enough to get this fantastic little flick early, so make sure you don’t miss it when it’s finally released in the US in February 2015. Who knows, if we give it enough love, we might just get a werewolf spin-off.

Director: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Writer(s): Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Stars: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer
Year: 2014
Studio/ Production Co: Unison Films
Language: English
Length: 86 mins
Sub-Genre: Vampires

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Written by Joey Keogh
Slasher fanatic Joey Keogh has been writing since she could hold a pen, and watching horror movies even longer. Aside from making a little home for herself at Wicked Horror, Joey also writes for Birth.Movies.Death, The List, and Vague Visages among others. Her actual home boasts Halloween decorations all year round. Hello to Jason Isaacs.
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