Our resident film reviewer is writer Harry Casey-Woodward who will be sharing his opinions on things he has watched…
What We Do in the Shadows, 2014, cert 15, dir Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, 3/5
There are two things that bug me about the horror genre. One, vampires are sometimes taken too seriously and two, horror parodies are often overly crass. New Zealand horror comedy What We Do in the Shadows solves both issues.
One thing that attracted me to this film is that it was co-directed, co-written and starred New Zealand comic actor Jemaine Clement. You may have seen Jemaine in HBO comedy show Flight of the Conchords, in which he and fellow star Bret McKenzie played two struggling folk musicians trying to hit the big time in New York. I liked the show for its absurd, awkward humour and the hilarious songs which peppered each episode.
In Shadows, Jemaine and some fellow New Zealand actors play some vampire mates who live in a flat in Wellington. There’s Viago (Taika Waititi, who also wrote and directed), an 18th century dandy who is the most civilised and foppish of the group, often holding house meeting to get his flatmates to do the dishes. There’s Deacon (Jonny Brugh), who fancies himself as a stud but just comes across as creepy. Jemaine plays Vladislav, a medieval vampire who is a shadow of his former tyrannical self. There’s also Petyr (Ben Fransham), an ancient Nosferatu-like creature who lives in the basement and hisses rather than speaks.
The film is a mockumentary, as this band of bloodsucking bachelors are being filmed by a documentary crew who wear crucifixes and the vampires have promised not to attack. The vampires are filmed getting into various misadventures. They hit the town and try to get invited into clubs. They order their servants to bring virgins to the flat. They make a decent attempt to include Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), one of their recently changed victims and his human friend Stu (Stu Rotherford), who they end up liking more than Nick.
I enjoyed watching this film more than I enjoyed Flight of the Conchords. I would even go so far to say as this would make a better TV show. As much I like Conchords, the jokes are mostly about being poor and single. Here, the humour is more creative as the vampire condition is hilariously and cleverly picked apart. The creators have managed to get great jokes from various aspects of vampire mythology. Their vampires are not tortured hunks, but creepy losers who are still painfully human.
While being a hoot from start to finish, the movie is also a good tribute to the horror genre. Not only are the costumes and sets suitably Gothic, but there are moments in the film that are quite horrific and even scary. There are two chase scenes in particular, one in the vampires’ house when they pursue Nick and another where they are chased around a park after antagonizing some werewolves. The use of hand-held camera in these scenes is more effective and unsettling than anything most serious horror mockumentaries have attempted with the technique.