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DVD Review - What We Do in the Shadows

Mockumentary on the lives of a group of male vampires in contemporary New Zealand.



Directed by: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi

Starring: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Rhys Darby


A simple ‘done-in-one’ blurb for this film would be “if you like Flight of the Conchords, you’ll love this!” but I’m disinclined to submit to such hackery and I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from outside the circle of fandom from trying this movie out. One caveat I have is, don’t watch the trailer, just jump straight in. The film is stronger as a surprise.
Presented as a documentary about four vampires co-habiting in a dilapidated house on the outskirts of Wellington, New Zealand, What We Do In The Shadows continues Conchords style of affectionate, minutely observed attention to detail in the service of pastiche, and of grounded observational comedy. Where the movie succeeds is in see-sawing between asking ‘What if this were real?’ and just running with the silliness of the premise, and the improvisational talents of the performers. On the first hand, you have the archaic dress sense and blasé murderousness of the lead characters, and on the other, the awkward stilted exchanges and slow-burning disputes of any mismatched house share.
Their situation is complicated when a victim is turned into a vampire and, deciding that he loves it, starts acting out and enjoying the life a little too much, which threatens to blow the group’s cover. There is an excellent scene where the police are called and the vampires try to resort to their powers of suggestion to prevent a bloodbath and more police attention. Karen O’Leary is particularly brilliant as a firm, fair and totally deadpan police sergeant concerned about the absence of smoke detectors in the house.
Director Taika Waititi and his collaborators have built a whole world of classic movie monsters dwelling on the outskirts of the New Zealand capital, stalking the night, enslaving diligent but bored housewives and holding malefic monster’s balls in drab community centres. The production design focusses on what’s needed on camera to retain suspension of disbelief, and on mainly physical effects, which gives the film its own texture (though the budget strains a mite in places where the script insists on something spectacular).
If there’s a problem with the film it’s one of coherence. Some strong gags are discarded too quickly; some set-ups turn out to be red herrings that aren’t given enough emphasis. I was left with the impression that there was a wealth of material from which to edit the film into shape and some moments have been left on the cutting room floor that would have been better left in. The DVD extras seem to confirm this. There is a generous crop of deleted scenes as well as a making of and characters interviews, keeping up the pretence that this is an actual documentary. I wouldn’t want to guess much footage was shot for this in total.
Although I started referencing Flight of the Conchords, this is not just the same guys in vampire drag. I don’t know anything of note about the New Zealand comedy business but I’m assuming I’m looking at a crop of international alumni from that scene in this film and their chops are rock-solid. There are a few supporting roles which I’d guess will be more like cameos for Antipodeans. 
Overall, What We Do In The Shadows might be an acquired taste, but I found it funny and endearing.




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