Director: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Screenplay: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Starring: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer
Country: New Zealand/USA
Running Time: 86 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
Being a fan of Flight of the Conchords and hearing a lot of early buzz about What We Do in the Shadows, the latest film project by one half of the Conchords team, Jemaine Clement, I was desperate to catch it when it was released late last year. Unfortunately it only screened in a handful of theatres so I missed it, but luckily Metrodome have just brought the film out in the UK on DVD and Blu-Ray so I snapped up the chance to review it to see if it lived up to the hype.
Written and directed by Clement alongside Eagle vs Shark director Taika Waititi, What We Do in the Shadows is a mockumentary looking at the day to day lives of four vampires, Viago (Taika Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) and Petyr (Ben Fransham). They share a flat together in Wellington, New Zealand and leading up to the Unholy Masquerade, a huge annual event for the local undead, the group live out their fairly dull extended lives, sleeping during the daytime and feeding from victims in the evening. During such a night, the guys add another member to the household, when Petyr turns young Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) into a vampire too. This allows the audience to witness the teething troubles (bad pun intended) of making the transformation as well as adding his human friend Stu (Stuart Rutherford) into the equation.
And that's kind of all there is to it. On the whole, the film just flits around mining the situation for as many jokes as possible and revels in riffing on the mundane details of their lives. The two added characters I mentioned, as well as Deacon's human 'familiar' Jackie (Jackie van Beek), supply a couple of story threads to keep things moving along, but generally there isn't much of a narrative driving things forward. That's probably my only real problem with the film. It just feels very slight because it's never really going anywhere and acts more like a series of sketches than a complete film.
However, as a comedy the film works brilliantly and I didn't really mind the threadbare nature of the film as it went on. I wouldn't go as far as to say I was laughing out loud, but I found the film consistently funny and was chuckling along from start to finish. I really liked the tone of the humour too. It doesn't get too low brow and doesn't rely on over the top gore gags (with possibly one or two exceptions). Equally it doesn't go too far into The Office territory by creating painfully awkward social situations or by dwelling on its characters' weaknesses. Instead the humour comes from clever writing, not 'nose-in-the-air' witticisms, but sharp observations of how being a vampire would effect an average existence. It's the perfect antidote to the hackneyed vampire movies that have been churned out for decades and there are a few open digs at certain titles, without ever lurching into parody territory.
The four main vampires in the house are based on varying popular styles of vampires from literature and cinema which is a nice touch. You've got the Nosferatu style ancient vampire Petyr, the sex-crazed seducer Vladislav, the classic campy vampire Viago and the slightly more modern Near Dark/Lost Boys style vampire Deacon. The film over emphasises their typical characteristics nicely and digs out as many jokes as it can. I found the on-going hypnosis gags particularly funny. My favourite scenes usually involved the local pack of werewolves though. Headed by Rhys Darby, who played the most memorable character in Flight of the Conchords, the werewolves act more like an AA group than vicious beasts. One of their mottos for instance is that they're “werewolves, not swear-wolves”.
The film uses its documentary format quite well too. I get frustrated with a lot of 'found footage' films that claim to be documentaries but aren't shot or presented as such. This however sticks fairly faithfully to the format utilising pieces to camera and interviews alongside 'actuality' footage, whilst making occasional reference to the crew so that you don't often get the 'how/why is this being filmed?' problem usually connected with these types of film.
All in all it's a highly enjoyable and consistently funny comedy which makes the most of its subject matter. It suffers from a lack of substance and drive though, so feels too lightweight to give a very high score. I imagine like a number of comedies it will bear repeated viewings though and the more I watch, the more I'll like it. It has the potential to be very quotable and I imagine there are a lot of little lines and background gags that will have been missed the first time around. So I look forward to watching it again and feel a purchase is the way to go because of this, especially given the wealth of supplementary material included with the film, which I'll get into below.
What We Do in the Shadows is out now in the UK on DVD and Blu-Ray, released by Metrodome. I saw the DVD version and the picture and audio quality was very good.
Without wanting to insult my good friends at Metrodome, their releases often skimp on the extras, but thankfully this is loaded with them. There's no commentary, but you get pretty much everything else you might want from a DVD/Blu-Ray release.
'Behind the Shadows' is an 18 minute montage of behind the scenes footage and a couple of soundbytes. It's basically presented, but shows a lot of the practical effects and makeup work that went into the film.
You get tonnes of deleted scenes (28 mins worth). Many of these are just extensions to existing scenes, but a lot of what is here is very funny if a little drawn out and rough compared to the actual film.
There are 18 minutes worth of interviews too, which I thought would be more 'making of' material, but actually they're done in character and are basically unedited (or at least less edited) versions of interviews used in the film. These are OK, but again you can see why they only took small chunks out of them to use in the film.
Then you've got the 'Video Extras' page which has a host of material – again some of it deleted and extended scenes from the film, but you also get a nice featurette following the two directors/writers/stars on a trip to a Transylvanian film festival and most interestingly the original short film on which the feature was based. This is a very low budget affair so feels a little more 'studenty' than the full film, but jokes/scenes have been carried over from it and it's still pretty funny.
Finally you also get a bunch of promo videos/trailers, rounding off quite an impressive package.