Title: What We Do In The Shadows
Director: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Major Players: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh
Out Of Five: 4
It’s not often that a distributor is so inundated with requests from hacks like yours truly to see a particular film that they have to lay on extra screenings. But that’s what’s happened with what sounds like the most unlikely of hits. A mockumentary from New Zealand about vampires.
And the reason is very simple. It’s gloriously funny. Let’s hope that all the resulting reviews will help it find its way into more cinemas over the next week or so. Because, as it stands, its distribution is pretty much confined to major towns and cities.
So, what’s all the fuss about? The cameras follow a group of vampires who share a house in Wellington, New Zealand, and struggle to come to terms with modern day life. When the oldest of them – Petyr (Ben Fransham), who is 8,000 years old – bites Nick, a human visitor and turns him into a vampire, the boys have to teach him all about his new way of life, one that he doesn’t find particularly easily. Plus, there’s the complication of his friend Stu, who remains a human, and who surprisingly becomes an integral part of their lives.
Modern life is a genuine struggle. Not being able to watch daytime TV, because that’s when they have to sleep. Imagine getting dressed, especially for a big night out, when you have no reflection. The only solution is to rely on each other’s opinion. Sharing household chores is another problem. Viago (Taika Waititi) is tidy to the point of pernickety, even if the house is decidedly shabby, so he tries to encourage them all to keep to a rota. It’s pretty much impossible. And it gets even trickier when they bring home a date/food. Newspaper on the floor is a must before getting down to the serious business of neck biting – but, if like Viago, you hit an artery, it’s downright inadequate. On the plus side, though, the ability to fly is a perfect for getting rid of those usually out-of-reach cobwebs.
Things change radically when the Nosferatu lookalike, Petyr, bites Nick and changes him into a vampire. It’s not an experience the former human takes in his stride. He tells all and sundry that he’s a vampire, even though it’s against the rules, and he has to overcome a burning desire to bite and eat Stu (Stu Rutherford), probably the most boring person on earth but his bezzie mate nonetheless. Stu wanders round with a permanently baffled expression on his face but the vampires get used to him, even learning to love him like one of their own.
If you’re a fan of all the vampire twaddle that invaded the cinema last year you might not be too happy about it being sent up so comprehensively. Actually, it takes the proverbial out of anything to do with vampires full stop, which means lots of visual jokes and even more blood.
It manages to pack in just about every vampire tradition going. At the start, we see Viago raising himself up out of his coffin at 6 in the evening – after his digital alarm has gone off, of course – so he can wake up everybody. Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) sleeps hanging upside down in a cupboard – he’s the youngest vampire at just 107 years old. Vladislav (The Flight Of The Conchords’ Jemaine Clement) is much older – around the 800 mark – and is less than happy to be woken from what looks like an orgy with two scantily clad women. And then there’s Petyr, who sleeps standing up in a stone coffin in the basement, which he rarely leaves, so the debris from his meals – bones, blood etc – is rarely swept up.
It’s consistently funny, but also gives you time for a breather in between one priceless sequence/gag and the next one. They’re not so much belly laughs, although there are plenty that will make you laugh out loud, as a never-ending chuckle, either of familiarity or enjoyment at the ridicule aimed at the whole vampire craze. It all looks wonderfully authentic, with plenty of apparently old documents and drawings telling the vampire’s individual stories, Vlad in particular. And the documentary side of things doesn’t escape unscathed either, with all the characters throwing awkward sideways glances at the cameras and even making reality TV style confessions.
Vampire culture turns out to be a subject absolutely rammed with targets for parody and the film doesn’t leave out a single one. Not only that, it hits the target every single time – unlike Vlad, who shoots Viago in the leg during target practice.
What We Do In The Shadows isn’t just funny – it’s unlike anything else out there at the moment. More interestingly, it could easily become a cult classic – Spinal Vamp!
What We Do In The Shadows is released on Friday, 21 November.