What We Do in the Shadows
It’s Friends! (Undead Dudes Edition). With a premise which seems best geared to a 15 minute comedy sketch long-time friends and collaborators Taika Waititi (Boy) and Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) beat the odds and turn out a feature film which is a riotous laugh right from its opening through to the post-credit closing gag. What We Do In the Shadows (hereafter Shadows) may well be a comedy of errors dissecting pop-cultural mores and unlikely friendship but ultimately it’s the story of a regular guy and the difference he can make by just being himself. It’s the story of Stu…who does some kind of work in IT…Stu.
Four vampires of varying age—183 through to 8000 years!—share a flat together in suburban Wellington. In the run up to the local annual undead convention the ‘boys’ invite a documentary crew to film their antics: cue laughter. Not unlike Waititi’s previous feature Boy, Shadows had a lengthy germination starting life back in 2005 as a comedy short. From those initial ideas Waititi and first time director/co-writer Clement have fleshed out a film that, whilst slight in terms of story arc, holds together very well and never slackens its comedic grip. With broad but perfectly timed thrusts Waititi-Clement’s mockumentary simultaneously skewers pop culture’s fascination with nefarious night creatures as well as its lengthened obsession with ‘reality’ based content. Shadows had a room full of jaded critics and reviewers involuntarily forming wave after Mexican wave of full body laughter and that is something noteworthy!
Shadows perfectly distills the filmmakers’ blend of silly absurdism and satirical deadpan traversing the full gamut of sketch-based, running gag, physical, and observational comedy. Each flatmate is deftly drawn from significant cinematic vampire types including Max Shrek’s Count Orlock from F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922), various more brutal representations of Count Dracula (by way of Vlad the Impaler), and a dandyish version of Anne Rice’s more urbane Vampire Lestat. Indeed Shadows vampiric reference points are myriad including lampooning classic vampire traits such as their sensual eroticism, the ability to fly (a particular Lost Boys scene comes to mind), tense relations with a local werewolf pack harking back to the Underworld films, and plentiful (obligatory) one liners at the expense of the more recent Twilight franchise.
Truly an ensemble project the cast universally settle into the film’s hybrid comedic tenor with no one character detracting from the overall experience. Waititi’s Viago is pleasingly restrained, the central four taking an even share of the limelight and punchlines. Regular collaborator Rhys Darby is damn funny as ‘camp dad’ of the local werewolf chapter despite producing the same exaggerated version of himself as he always seems to play. Most interestingly the film’s emotional heart is its least emotional character: the aforementioned Stu. Stu is played by Waititi’s ex-flatmate…Stu (Rutherford)…who works in IT…just like his character…Stu. Stu exudes a Gervaisian sense of awkward, unfeigned reality; somehow grounding the surrounding absurdity, simultaneously servicing both the deadpan humour and dramatic aspects of Shadows. The inclusion of the character and the non-professional actor proves a masterstroke, unexpectedly imparting a sense of narrative and tonal cohesion to proceedings.
Those tuning in off the back of Flight of the Conchords fandom will not be disappointed but the appeal of the film should be pretty broad and strike a chord with anyone who has rolled their eyes at the recent big and small screen recasting of ‘fangers’ as soap-style heroes. Eschewing mean-spirited mocking Shadows tone is kept light, its humour buoyantly warm. So long as you can cope with the odd artery pumping spray of fake blood you should leave the cinema with a wide smile.
Rating: R13 Violence and offensive language.
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