Sunday, June 19, 2016

What We Do in the Shadows review


    I love vampires but, God almighty, it's getting hard to do anything new with them. It occurs to me the thing I'd love to do most is a vampire novel but I can't think of what I could bring to the table which wouldn't be warmed over Vampire: The Masquerade. Hell, I've even contemplated doing a Young Adult mummy novel because at least that didn't seem completely ripped off but still deal with some of the same themes.

    But dammit, vampires are still awesome and I always am open for another example of the genre. In this case, though, I give them extra credit for making it a humorous example which tears the sacred cows (few as they remain) to shreds. It's not a perfect laugh-a-second example of comedy but it approaches that at times with its low budget almost completely irrelevant to its value as a parody.

    One might even say satire.

Viago is something of a messy eater.
    What we do in the Shadows is a faux documentary about a film crew which has been invited to join a group of four vampires living together in a New Zealand two-story house. Viago (Taika Waititi), Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), Deacon (Johnathan Brugh), and Petyr (Ben Fransham) are a parody of Lestat, Dracula, The Lost Boys' David, and Count Orlock. Each of them represents an era of vampires in film. They're joined, in the end by Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), who unironically compares himself to Edward from Twilight and is (of course) the least offensive member of the group to the point of not even being recognizable as a vampire.

    We follow the four, then five, of them during the build-up to the masquerade ball which is the highlight of their year. It's a slice of life comedy which shows how life for the undead goes and all of its foibles. This includes adjusting to their new flatmate in Nick as well as the fact none of them are particularly good at being a vampire. Vlad may be 800 years old but he's still hung up on his ex-girlfriend and refuses to acknowledge he may have (completely) lost his edge.

It's hard to keep fashion relevant when you're immortal.
    The vampires are used as a kind of mirror to the reality television show culture which desperately wants to think itself to be cooler and relevant than it is. The vampires have invited a crew to live with them and watch them hunt humans (frequently killing them in hilariously awful ways--which is funny because our protagonists are so bad at it) because they believe themselves to be suaver than they really are. At one point, they bring the crew to a vampire nightclub only to find the place is entirely empty that evening but for the sole person they invited.

    Indeed, the joke of the movie is predicated on the fact the main characters are convinced they're the kind of sexy awesome godlike undead of fiction but are really just four losers living in New Zealand barely able to keep the lights on. The fact they're aware, on some level, this is the case but in active denial is a wonderful source of tension the movie exploits regularly.  One of my favorite moments is when they start hassling a group of clean-cut Christian werewolves to show hardcore they are, only to come off like they're in fifth grade.

Selfies are a problem when you cast no reflection.
    There's not really much in the way of story here. It's really more a series of comic vignettes loosely tied together by the premise. Even so, the movie does an excellent job of setting up jokes in one seen and then having the pay off a few scenes later. For example, Viago is a fastidious neat-freak who insists on everything being perfect. He chews out, no pun intended, his fellow vampires for not doing the dishes in five years as well as ruining his favorite couch with blood only to accidentally hit an artery and cover an entire room in gore.

    I think part of the problem a lot of vampire movies and media have today is everyone is desperately trying to eliminate every downside to their condition. When you make vampires impossibly smooth awesome sex gods, you remove any reason why anyone but teenage girls would want to read about them. The vampires in this movie are pathetic and there are serious drawbacks to their condition.

Vlad isn't very good with shape-changing anymore.
    There's a wonderful quote from Viago which is actually poignant despite what a bizarre parody of everything vampiric this movie is. After Nick loses a friend, Viago talks about how vampires lose all their friends among mortals, come to hate them as they grow old and lose their minds then hate themselves when they're gone for that resentment.

    It evokes real-life guilt which rings too true for those who had lost a relative to a deteriorating condition. Then it becomes hilarious again when, after this depressing monologue, Viago asks if that made Nick feel any better. It's another authentic moment where even the most genuine (especially the most genuine) attempts to help are horribly awkward.

    We're all vampires in that respect.

Jam session!
    So do I recommend this movie? Oh, hell yes I recommend this movie. There's a few clumsy parts to this movie, specifically whenever they try to add plot like at the masquerade they're attending. Likewise, the low budget is mostly unnoticeable but there's a few moments it does stick out like with a few poor special effects. Still, overall, this is a hilarious piece of work and one I recommend for all vampire fans.

9/10

4 comments:

  1. Nice review. This was definitely one of the best comedies of 2015.

    - Zach (http://fadetozach.blogspot.com)

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    1. 100% agreed. I'm sorry it took me so long to see this.

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  2. Do you want some pasghetti, Charles? You're eating worms! It's worms!

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    1. He knows now! It's not going to work. :)

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