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What We Do in the Shadows [AFI Fest 2014]
Other // Unrated // February 13, 2015
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
When one hears the concept of a comedic vampire mockumentary, it might catch them a little off guard. However, if you think about two massively popular forms of film and television, reality satire and vampires coming into one place doesn't sound too out of the question. When writer/directors Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi stepped onto the stage at my AFI Fest screening, they told a hilarious story of how their concept for What We Do in the Shadows supposedly came to be. It was at this moment that I realized what I was in for; a uniquely hysterical feature that will leave me wanting more. Well, that's exactly what I got from my cinematic experience, and if you're also a fan of successful horror comedy, then you're likely to feel the exact same way.
An all-human documentary crew follows a group of vampires composed of Viago (Taika Waititi), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), and Vladislav (Jemaine Clement). They also happen to be three flatmates, who are simply trying to live out their immortal lives. They struggle to overcome very human obstacles, such as washing the dishes and cleaning the floors after eating. All coming from different time periods, the vampires are preparing for what is known as "The Unholy Masquerade." Offering protection to the documentary crew, they seek to inform us of their lives and goals.
Before the title is revealed, we're introduced to each character as Viago walks around the flat in order to inform his flatmates of a "flat meeting" that will be taking place to address some issues. After all, he's clearly the responsible one in the group, who constantly must nag his fellow vampire friends. Deacon is a bit more of a free spirit, who sometimes enjoys performing interpretive dance. Last, but certainly not least, Vladislav was once known as a legend in the vampire community, and is primarily known for his torture techniques, which is how he got named "The Poker." Each character has a contrasting personality and a varied set of goals and morales. When they all come into one house, chaos ensues. This is when we realize that this is something more than a mockumentary, but it's a satire on reality television. Writer/directors Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi have truly crafted a genius universe of characters where vampires aren't all bad people who live in castles. In fact, we genuinely come to care about this flat of vampires. When all of these character dynamics come together, there's inevitably a clash that makes for a constantly evolving sense of friendship. Since it's filmed as a mockumentary, the fourth wall is constantly being broken, making for a consistently immersive and engaging experience that involves the audience. We feel like something much more than spectators.
When it comes to Clement and Waititi's screenplay, it has a firm understanding of the clichés of the vampiric sub-genre of horror filmmaking. They utilize such stereotypes to their advantage, as a lot of the feature's humor comes from mocking our expectations of these stories. We finally discover how they're able to dress themselves when they don't even appear in the mirror. How do they eat without making a mess, and why do they request virgins for feasting upon? There are way more hits than misses here, as you'll find the laugh-per-minute ratio to be extremely high. Some of the comedy is wonderfully raunchy, but it's nice to explore a different sense of humor than that of Judd Apatow, regardless of how funny his films are. However, this is a screenplay with a wide variety of jokes and gags that are highly effective. If vampires exist in this world, what else can? The film introduces a few zombies and werewolves, who also prove that they aren't all what we've come to expect via movie clichés. However, they don't all get along with one another. As expected, the vampires and the werewolves aren't exactly on the best of terms, but these "wild beasts" perhaps have even more strict morals than any other group. The two species begin to howl, hiss, and spit at one another, but swearing is out of the question. After all, they call themselves werewolves, not "swearwolves."
These might be supernatural creatures, but their stories remain incredibly human. The themes of friendship and love are strong in this one. While there isn't too much of a plot to speak of, other than to inform us of their day-to-day lives, that's part of the film's charm. It feels like a delicious mix of reality television and mockumentary filmmaking that doesn't need any major plot beats to remain fascinating and hilarious. While there's a slight lull towards the end, the characters and their aspirations are ultimately what drive the film. Even though they may have been alive for hundreds of years, they still have hopes and dreams that they wish to achieve. However, it isn't until now that they are finally being called to a slightly more modern society in which they can be a part of. The Internet is completely new to them, as media proves to certainly be the aim of quite a few jokes here, but only as they relate to vampires. It's all so well-crafted, that you can't help but fall head over heels for this one.
When it comes to the performances, one can see the fun that the cast members are having from miles away. What We Do in the Shadows oozes with an infectious energy that fills the picture from start to finish. Taika Waititi is great as Viago. It isn't always the dialogue that will get you, but his facial expressions and body language feel like they're from the work of a comedic genius. Jemaine Clement is hilarious as Vladislav. His delivery is absolutely impeccable, as he has the ability to solely incite laughter through numerous sequences. Jonathan Brugh is also suitable as Deacon. When all three are interacting with one another, it's pure magic. The chemistry is so fluid, that it all manages to mesh into one cohesive environment of characters.
Imaginative, hilarious, and filled with energy, this is a horror comedy mockumentary that absolutely kills it. This genre-bending feature has an abundance of genuine laughs, but it consistently pays tributes to its horror roots. With a group of likable characters, portrayed by a cast of hilarious actors, this is sure to hit the funny bone at exactly the right angle. Unique concepts that are well-executed have become as rare as the needle in the haystack in recent years. Well, here is your needle. What We Do in the Shadows is consistently funny with a bite that's sure to hit the jugular. Highly recommended!
What We Do in the Shadows played at AFI FEST 2014 presented by Audi on November 8 and November 11.