Sunday, January 11, 2015

What we do in the Shadows – review

Director: Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi

Release date: 2014

Contains spoilers

One of the frustrations of the Internet is that you get to hear about projects like this one, which subsequently take an infuriatingly long time to become available in your country. After waiting for this film to become available it recently had a limited theatrical release in the UK, but the closest cinema showing it was 50 miles away from me. On the other hand, one of the cool things about the Internet is, of course, that you get to hear about projects like this one and marketplaces like eBay can get you access to the DVDs even if they're not released in your country.

Sellers on EBay UK happened to have the Australian and New Zealand releases of the film available for purchase.

vampire music
The film has been getting positive press and it was a film that saw a fly on the wall documentary team following the antics of a house full of vampires. This is not a new concept and, as well as general documentary style vampire films, the concept seemed similar to films such as Nightlife (2008) and Vampires (2010). No bad thing, however, as both were pretty cool films.

Viago awakens
The film begins by telling us that every few years a secret society in New Zealand hold an event called the Unholy Masquerade. It then goes on to tell us that the documentary crew had all been provided with crucifixes. We then hear an alarm go off, a hand snakes out of a coffin to switch the alarm off. The lid opens and Viago risies smoothly upright (though stops midway). We later discover that Viago was an 18th century dandy. He nervously checks the curtain and is relieved to discover it is actually night.

no reflection
The film is knowing about the vampire genre, Viago's awakening rise being a play on a staple trope introduced via Nosferatu, so when he wakes his housemates there are some obvious, and some less than obvious, references. The first he wakes is Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) whose inverted slumber in a broom closet immediately reminded me of the Lost Boys - there are more the Lost Boys references later, indeed the film gets a name check. Deacon is told that there is a house meeting in 10 minutes.

visually reminiscent of Dracula (92)
Next he wakes Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), whose bedroom antics brought Dracula (1992) to mind. Indeed there is a gentle poke at the Vlad Ţepeş genre connection when we discover that Vladislav, who is referred to as a pervert by Viago, went by the soubriquet of Vlad the Poker. Vladislav pushes the house meeting back by ten further minutes.

Petyr is 8000 years old
The final housemate to wake is Petyr (Ben Fransham, 30 Days of Night). Petyr lives in the basement, in a stone sarcophagus, is 8000 years old and looks full on Count Orlock. Viago is cautious around the old bloodsucker and suggests his presence at the house meeting would be welcome but not mandatory. Said house meeting is primarily set up because Deacon has not followed the chore wheel and thus has not washed up for 5 years.

Viago is a messy eater
As the film progresses we discover that sunlight will kill vampires, that tapping a major artery is rather messy, that vampires have no reflections, they can't get into nightclubs as they haven't been invited and they enjoy playing the "you're eating worms" game from the Lost Boys. The happening place for vampires, as they can't get into most of the nightclubs, is a bar owned by a vampire that was one of the most depressing looking nightspots ever!

spewing after a solid
Deacon has a familiar called Jackie (Jackie van Beek), he has promised her eternal life but uses her as a general dogsbody. When she brings a couple of victims to the house one of them, Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), is turned by Petyr. Much of the film is about this modern person in their lives, a man who likens himself to Edward from Twilight and openly tells people that he is a vampire. Further lore we get includes the ability to shapeshift, turning is quite traumatic and the fact that they spew copious amounts of blood after eating even the smallest amount of solid food.

transformed face
I won't spoil any of the ensuing film but will tell you that zombies and werewolves do come into it. The acting is a joy throughout, and the silliness instilled into these creatures of the night is pitched at just the right level. Their pomposity is endearing, and the situations genuinely funny. This is, of course, just what you want from this type of film. I loved the look of the house, which was in equal parts a Gothic pile and urban conurbation. 7.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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