Every week, the folks at iTunes find a movie they like and make it available to rent for the low, low price of $0.99. I’m here to tell you whether that film is worth your hard earned dollar.
We’re Vampires, We Don’t Put Down Towels
Vlad, Deacon, and Viago are confirmed bachelors sharing a flat in a quiet Wellington neighborhood. They’re a fun-loving bunch who want pretty much what we all want…love, acceptance, to be invited into that really cool nightclub, and to eat their food confident in the knowledge that no one else has f***ked it. That last bit may be a stretch for many of you…unless you’re into virgin blood. I should probably mention at this point that Vlad, Deacon, and Viago are blood-sucking vampires. That should sound ominous, but the guys are just so damned likable.
A taut comedic gem, What We Do in the Shadows follows this unholy trio as they battle everything from needy slaves to Google and their own centuries-old insecurities. Oh, and werewolves. Don’t forget the stinking werewolves. Told in reality-show style, this tale of society’s ultimate outsiders would feel right at home in the world of Christopher Guest…if he were, ya know, actually Dario Argento. In the improvisational hands of Co-Writers/Directors/Stars Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, those seemingly conflicting styles are masterfully blended. Like Only Lovers Left Alive before it, What We Do in the Shadows gleefully lampoons decades of vampire fiction while breathing new life into an undead genre sucked dry by the young adult fiction set. All the while paying loving homage to the genre it mocks…with a toothy, pointy smile.
We Stole That Idea from The Lost Boys, but I Put a Nice Spin on It
Thank goodness for those smiles, cause breathing life into the mockumentary genre is no small feat. I’ve heard the term “fresh take on the genre” enough in recent years to be more than a little wary of the phrase. Sure, sometimes you get inspired work like I’m Still Here. More often, you get something a little less soulful like Borat. When it’s been done so many times it can be hard to find a new angle, but that’s just what Waititi and Clement achieve with What We Do in the Shadows.
Right from the opening scene involving an alarm clock, a coffin, and the terrifying prospect of opening a curtain, you can tell that Waititi and Clement are working on a higher level. The ensuing house meeting where the flatmates bicker over who does the dishes is positively inspired. In a matter of minutes, the rules of their cinematic universe are laid out. It’s up to you to enjoy the ride. Make no mistake, this is not the Wayans Bros. spoofing Twilight. Waititi and Clement are not interested in mere spoof. They have too much affection for the vampire genre to just point a finger and laugh at it. Yes, they find humor in all facets of vampire life, particularly as it exists in a modern world. But they never overlook the terror of it. A gory attack always seems imminent, but a tactical error can make any bloodletting seduction side-splittingly funny. Even more so if the moments leading up to that error are equally unnerving.
In the case of Petyr, the little seen fourth flatmate, unnerving is the impetus to hilarity. He’s 8,000 years old, and the spitting image of Max Schreck in Nosferatu. The ghastly look is used to spooky effect by the filmmakers, but the general unease that comes from Petyr’s frightening facade is constantly undermined. A simple look or clever situational writing allows Petyr a couple of great scares in What We Do in the Shadows, but he gets even bigger laughs. Think for just a moment how ridiculous it is that he even exists. The acerbically dry fashion in which Waititi, Clement & Co. tiptoe around the chilling absurdity of vampires gives the comedy in What We Do in the Shadows a singularly caustic bite. (Sorry, couldn’t resist that one)
We’re Not These Mopey Old Creatures Who Live in Castles…
It’s difficult to write about comedy and not give too much away, so I’ll quit while I’m ahead. I don’t want to ruin any of the knee-slapping surprises waiting for you in What We Do in the Shadows, because there are plenty. Fans of HBO’s Flight of the Concords or Eagle vs Shark know full well the deadpan joy of Waititi and Clement’s odd little worlds. For many (myself included) What We Do in the Shadows comes as a comedic revelation, particularly when you account for how artfully the film is constructed. I’ve seen many a mockumentary in my day, but rarely one that flows from beginning to end as effortlessly. Not a moment is wasted, not a beat missed and nary a comedic coffin left unopened. Colors, costumes, music, and set all mesh to give What We Do in the Shadows an acutely authentic feel, even in its giddy madness. Brilliantly acted and seamlessly edited, What We Do in the Shadows stands as a glorious new entry to a genre in desperate need of fresh blood. (No apologies for that one)
And then some. Let’s face it, 2015 has been a comedic vacuum. Seriously, I cannot name another genuinely funny movie released this year. Don’t let a paltry sum like $0.99 stand in the way of a good laugh. Spend it and spend it today. What We Do in the Shadows may not be the most original movie out there, but what it lacks in concept it more than makes up for in laughs. Those come as fast and furious as arterial spray in this soon-to-be cult classic.
Happy viewing, kids! See you next week.