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What We Do In The Shadows

By Will Krischke

One of the drawbacks to being a vampire: you can’t check your hair in the mirror on your way to the nightclub.  Another drawback: it’s hard to get into nightclubs, since you need an invitation to enter any building.  As Nick in “What We Do in the Shadows” lets us know, you really shouldn’t believe the hype.  Being undead isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The movie is a mockumentary, following a flat of vampires in New Zealand as they do their best to avoid the sunlight, keep the spurting blood off the furniture, and stay away from werewolves.   There is a goofy sense at the beginning of them doing the things people expect vampires to do, putting on a show, before they get comfortable with being followed around by a camera, and become, actually, pretty normal people.  Aside from the sleeping all day and drinking blood parts.

Viago is the de facto leader, perhaps because he is the one who cares the most about chore wheels and dirty dishes.  I think Vladislav is supposed to be a spoof on Anne Rice’s vampires, and Deacon clearly thinks/wishes he was as sexy as Tom Cruise in “Interview with the Vampire.”  Rounding out the flat is Petyr, who sleeps in a tomb in the basement, never speaks, but turns out to be a pretty reasonable guy, as long as you bring him a sacrificial rooster when you wake him.

They kind of come across as aging members of a punk band that had a minor hit thirty years ago; they still think they’re hot shit, but nobody else really cares.  They’re all (except for Peter) off their game in one way or another; Vlad used to be able to hypnotize people, but suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of “The Beast” (one of the biggest laughs of the film is when we find out who The Beast actually is) Viago can’t seem to bite anybody without getting blood all over the place, and Deacon… well, it’s not clear that Deacon every really had a game, besides being a Nazi vampire.

Like almost all mockumentaries, I wish “What We Do in the Shadows” had more of a plot. It functions mostly as loosely related vignettes, like watching a series of sketches that aired on Saturday Night Live over the course of a season.  Sometimes it is just silly, not quite funny, but there’s hardly a gag or a joke in its 86 minutes that doesn’t land at least glancingly.  That’s better than most mockumentaries can boast, and at least twice as good as your average sketch comedy.

The introduction of Nick does breathe a bit of a plot into the film; he’s a normal guy who clearly just tries to roll with anything and everything that happens (“Do you like basghetti, Nick?”  “Yeah, yeah… I usually eat it warm though.  Never had it like this…”)  even when Peter turns him into a vampire.  The worst thing about that is that he can’t eat his good friend Stu, who also seems completely imperturbable. Everyone loves having Stu around, because he teaches them how to use Google and Skype.  But ultimately Nick can’t handle the weird isolation of only hanging out with other vampires who are 600 years older than him, as well as not being able to eat chips.

“What We Do in the Shadows”  hardly more than a wisp of a movie, more interested in goofing around than in being insightful or observant, and so it’s hardly something you’re likely to return to — or perhaps even remember.  But if you want to smile for 86 minutes straight, and occasionally chuckle, this is the ticket.

Random Notes

–This movie has a lot of crossover with “Flight of the Conchords” – that odd, sort of sketch-musical TV show from a few years ago.  Jemaine Clement and Rhys Darby both appear, and Clement has a writing credit. Fans of that show will definitely enjoy this movie.

–But after watching Jemaine Clement’s other 2015 project, “People Places Things,” I think this must really be the brainchild of co-director and co-writer Taika Watiti.  His winsome charm as Viago really carries the film through its rough spots — none of the other characters are nearly so likable — and “PPT” was generic and lazy and boring.  It hardly seems possible that Clement could have made both movies in the same year, but don’t lie.

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

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