Sunday, May 3, 2015

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS Is Perhaps the Definitive Vampire Comedy


- Do you miss Flight of the Conchords? I really miss Flight of the Conchords. Luckily, the show's stars remain active and continue to give us new comedy (even if it's mostly separately these days). Also luckily, Jermaine Clement decided to make a mockumentary about vampires - giving us something we didn't know we needed but damned if we aren't lucky to have. Clement co-wrote and co-directed this one, along with Taika Waititi (both also star) - and the result is a memorably funny and surprisingly dark movie that is a must-watch for fans still missing the Conchords and their uniquely deadpan style of humor. Plus: vampires!

The movie tells the tale of four very-old vampires, each of varying degrees of oldness, who live as flatmates in the modern day and whose lives are not that dissimilar from your typical urban hipsters. They argue over the flat rules, hit the town in search of female companionship (and blood to feed on), and have the typical roommate issues that one might expect any regular dudes to have. The movie takes a cue from the Christopher Guest mockumentaries, having these outlandish characters deliver dry confessionals to the camera that are absurdly hilarious.

The main vampires are each very funny. And each is sort of a riff on various eras of vampiric lore - the aristocratic Francis Ford Coppola take, the old-school Nosferatu version, etc. The movie really goes into a lot of vampire tropes and cliches, having a lot of fun skewering all the common perceptions and mis-perceptions about the monsters. Plus, Jermaine Clement with a giant stache and medieval garb is just inherently pretty funny. The wackiness really begins though when the vampires lure an unsuspecting couple into their lair, and end up turning the guy - a regular bloke named Nick - into one of the undead. Nick then becomes our entry-point into this world, and a lot of the film's comedy comes from Nick trying to reconcile his still-very-human way of looking at things with his new status as a bloodthirsty creature of the night. Case in point - Nick's loyal pal Tim. Nick insists on hanging out with Tim as per usual, despite the warnings of his new vampiric chums that hanging out with regular folks leads to potentially uncontrollable bloodlust.

Clement, Waititi, and the rest of the cast are all really funny, and all very much "get" the kind of subtle humor that the movie is going for. At times, I almost found the movie to be too subtle. There are only a couple of big laughs, as the film mostly goes for the more subtle chuckles. And that's fine, except the tone sometimes gets so serious and laugh-free that it feels like it's become a different film. I appreciate that the film doesn't shy away from darkness and horror, but I also think there are a few too many dry spells where the jokes are not frequent enough. It can be frustrating, because the movie gets some really great laughs when it's on its game. Point being, I think WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS tries a little too hard at times to work as both deadpan comedy and legitimately creepy horror film. Its strength is with the comedy stuff, so ideally it would have stuck more to delivering the funny.

Still, this is a really fun, unique film that is well worth a rent on iTunes or the service of your choice. It's the Spinal Tap of vampire movies you always didn't-quite-realize you wanted.

My Grade: B+

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