Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Comedy, Horror
Run Time: 1 hour 26 minutes, Not Rated
Starring: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Bugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stuart Rutherford, Ben Fransham, Rhys Darby
Co-Written & Co-Directed by Jemaine Clement (directorial debut) and Taika Waititi (Boy, Eagle vs. Shark)
In the vein (pun intended) of brilliant mock-umentary comedies like This is Spinal Tap!, Best in Show and Fear of a Black Hat, comes What We Do in the Shadows (opening today in limited release). The premise is that a group of brave filmmakers - given crosses for protection of course - have been given exclusive and rare access into a flat occupied by a "family" of vampires. Hilarity then ensues.
The vampire genre seems a ripe choice for a spoof, especially if Mel Brook's bomb, Dracula: Dead and Loving It, isn't your bag. And there are none better to handle it than Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, two New Zealanders who bring with them a very fresh-feeling, quirky brand of comedy. Clement, you may recognize, as one half of The Flight of the Conchords. Waititi is the writer/director of one of the best comedic films of the past five years that you've never heard of, Boy (there is a link to my review of this below...be sure to check this film out!). Needless to say, there was a lot of expectation for this horror genre send-up to be great.
So perhaps that's why I was a bit disappointed. What We Do in the Shadows starts off great, but has more laughs in the first 10 minutes than it does the rest of the film. It felt like there might have not been enough substance with the idea, to stretch it into a full-length film, as the entire middle portion of the film is surprisingly short on humor.
Waititi plays Viago, the most "capable" vampire to lead the film crew through the house. Clement plays Vladislav, an older but not necessarily wiser vampire. Then there is the youngest of the bunch, Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), who owns a human slave Jackie (Jackie van Beek), who is growing frustrated that her maker won't, well, make her. They also live with the 8,000 year-old Petyr (Ben Fransham), who is more the type of vampire like Count Orlok from Nosferatu, and who needs to be locked in the basement most of the time.
There are jokes galore that poke fun of vampire stereotypes and legends. An alarm clock goes off and we see a hand reach out of a coffin to turn it off. Since vampires cannot see their reflections, they draw pictures of each other to let each other know what they look like. They go out clubbing at night, but the bouncers must invite them inside, since vampires cannot just enter any old building. They run into a pack of Werewolves led by the brilliantly funny Rhys Darby (Murray, the band's manager from The Flight of the Conchords HBO series), who urges his group to use proper language. "We're werewolves not swear-wolves," he tells them.
As thin as the premise gets, What We Do in the Shadows is a welcome change-up to the comedy landscape, brought to us by these proud New Zealanders. Although this isn't an instant classic, it hopefully will expose more people to the very talented Taika Waititi, who after Boy, was a writer/director I would have followed anywhere, even if the next spot he led me was the somewhat disappointing realm of these kooky vampires.
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