FEATURE: Shocktober '15 - What We Do In The Shadows

Over the course of October, I shall be watching one horror movie a day and reviewing it right here for your reading pleasure. I haven't seen any of the films I'll be watching before and you can find the full list here.



After the vampiric delights of Near Dark yesterday, more traditional horror fare, it seemed only fitting to follow it up with What We Do In The Shadows, an affectionate look at vampire flatmates - Viago (Taika Waititi), Vladlislav (Jemaine Clement) and Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) - trying to navigate the 21st century. Over the course of the film, we see them take on a new flatmate with less than stellar consequences, rumble with local werewolves and attend the Unholy Masquerade, the event for New Zealand's undead. 

On its release in 2014, the particular film-y section of Twitter I inhabit was alive with talk of What We Do In The Shadows and it was also a critical comedy darling. The central conceit seemed initially to be a slight one, but the film finds a great vein of comedy running through the cultural shock between age-old aristocratic vampires and the modernity of 21st century Wellington. This is captured hilariously with Nick, the new vampire, who hasn't quite grasped the need for secrecy nor is too keen to play along with the house rules. It's a familar experience for even the humans amongst us, but to see that conflict play out through the vampiric prism is amusing indeed.

To stop that conceit spreading too thin, there's also plenty of jokes mined from the history of vampires in popular culture. The film that clearly adores the stories it is spoofing. The use of old woodcut images and paintings photoshopped with the characters in them is a really amusing touch, often providing punchlines of their own. Gary Oldman's Dracula performance is riffed on spectacularly by Clement, his brooding Vladislav stealing the show as the Gothic lord with a penchant for poking people. 

There's also room in there to mock the latest iterations of those who walk in the night. Twilight cops considerable flak, especially in the fight with the politically correct werewolves. Petyr might just be my favourite though, an ancient soul made-up like Nosferatu and with a deadpan expression that clashes beautifully with the overly expressive Viago.

I'm not overly familar with the stars' work outside of this film (Flight of the Conchords is one particular comedy phenomena that has completely passed me by) so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. On reflection, this was probably for the best. I'm always a bit wary of improvisational comedy, particularly in recent years, as the American output has been very hit and miss. Shadows succeeds where many don't through the judicious editing process that the film has clearly gone through. No scene plays out for too long, nor do they labour any jokes too much. It's refreshing and the film only gets funnier as you settle into its offbeat style.

It doesn't shy away from finding the poignancy in eternal life either. The ongoing story of Viago's love for Katherine, whom he followed to New Zealand to confess his love, only to be thwarted by incorrect postage, forms an emotional hook through the narrative. Likewise, Stu's humanity is used as a reflection for the vampires' experiences and leads to a lovely little speech about witnessing mortality and being unable to prevent it from Deacon. They're small moments in the scheme of things, but it gives the film a depth that is most welcome.

I didn't really know what to expect from this film and I think it's going to take a couple of watches for me to truly appreciate some of the gags here, but What We Do In The Shadows is an elegantly constructed supernatural comedy.

- Becky

You can find my other Shocktober '15 reviews here.

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FEATURE: Shocktober '15 - The Witches (1966)

FEATURE: Shocktober '15 - Near Dark