Tom Deeham reviews this wickedly funny mockumentary
Whether or not you’re a hater of Edward, a naysayer of Dracula, or someone who just really doesn’t like taking basic maths instructions from The Count, you might like to know that vampires are on their way out … of popularity at least.
Don’t be misunderstood, if time has proven anything, the vampire concept will never completely disappear, but the most recent influx of these beasts on our TV screens seems to be coming to end, following a similar life cycle that also stands to define the genre of the ‘western’ which was popular so many years ago. There is a theory in film studies that every genre has a lifespan, and just before it reaches the final stage of obscurity, it falls into parody, which helps to account for the release and utter brilliance of What We Do In The Shadows.
This vampire mockumentary is the love child between Jermaine Clement, one half of Flight of the Conchords, and Taika Waititi. They write, direct, and star in this film, proving to be a winning duo as their passion for this project makes itself apparent from the film’s opening scene.
What We Do In The Shadows sees a documentary crew concern itself with a flat share in New Zealand where four gentlemen from very different backgrounds reside, at a time when this group is preparing for an upcoming masquerade ball that will host many other folk such as themselves. These people also happen to be vampires.
There is an instant charm to been found within these characters and the household dynamic they have set up, as Viago (aged 379) takes us on a tour of the house. Viago himself is without a doubt one of the most sincere characters I have ever had the pleasure of viewing, and the way in which he interacts with the hot headed Deacon (aged 183), and the seductive Vladislav (aged 862) makes for unparalleled comedic genius. Also in residence is Petyr (aged 8,000), a true vampire in every sense of the word as his striking resemblance to Count Orlok from the film Nosferatu brings with it an instant air of fear.
Waitiki and Clement take great care with the documentary format, as it works to both enhance the comedy at hand, as with the use of a hilarious ‘reenactment’ video later on in the film, but to also provide with film with a decent level of tension when it’s needed. This camera crew is following around blood thirsty vampires after all. The fact that the camera men are mere mortals means that they mimic our own vulnerability – should we ever encounter these characters. This eventually leads to some great scares, particularly during their run in with werewolves, as we genuinely feel drawn into the plight of these poor folk who are simply trying to make a good documentary.
Most unfortunate is that despite the fairly consistent use of blending comedy with horror, there are times when the latter becomes so predominant that it throws the tone of the whole of movie out of sync. The film’s use of gore is the main culprit. I’ve seen many a gory film in my time, and I have defended films such as Kick-Ass when it was criticised for being too violent, yet, I don’t think I have seen a film until now which not only this much blood, but also such needless gore.
When the audience is treated to a scene where Viago is seducing a young women to become his victim, his concern about getting blood on the furniture and putting down towels is funny enough as it plays to the playful nature of his personality. What doesn’t, however, is seeing him then pierce the woman’s neck and attempt to drink the blood which is now currently spraying in every which way it can. We are already aware that vampires kill people, but to show gore with such intensity only undermines their likeability as characters. The film would have fared far better if these gory acts had occurred off screen.
With the degree of humour and characterisation that comes with What We Do In The Shadows, it would take a serious effort not to endorse it. You’re likely to be so drawn in by the highly entertaining day to day lives of these characters. The comedic formula is just so delightful that it does beg the question of whether or not the whole scenario would have fared better in a longer format as a TV show?