March 21, 2015

What We Do in the Shadows

500th review

What We Do in the Shadows is a silly, slight but enjoyable, mockumentary about four male vampires (Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Jonathan Brugh, and Ben Fransham) living in a flat in Wellington, New Zealand. It’s a joke on all the old vampire tropes, but only half-heartedly so. What it really makes fun of is straight men afraid of acting gay: the unspoken tenderness that develops between male friends who would be horrified if anyone ever accused them of loving each other. There are, as is to be expected, plenty of references to the vampire of popular culture (from Dracula to Twilight), and Petyr, the least social of the four undead roommates, has been made up to resemble Mr. Barlow, the purple, snaggle-fanged, hissing vampire in the 1979 adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. (That look of Mr. Barlow was, of course, drawn heavily from Murnau’s silent classic of 1922, Nosferatu.) The other three roommates make gains toward having a social life, and procure victims through their living “familiar,” Jackie (Jackie Van Beek), who’s been promised eternal life in exchange for her service.

The film is also a riff on hyper-dramatic reality TV shows. It feels like a Gothic Real World directed by Christopher Guest. And always, always, with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that lifts the material. It’s a dark movie—out of necessity—and not a particularly well-made one at that. It’s obvious that the filmmakers are in love with their idea, like kids who’ve been given a video camera to play around with, and even when you’re bored watching the flatness of the results you can savor and enjoy their unmitigated enthusiasm for the material and for the act of movie-making. The film is laugh-out-loud funny at times, but its humor begins to wear thin after a while. The cleverness of the idea isn’t enough to sustain it, although it’s mercifully short at 86 minutes. By the end I was a little bored with it, even though the big showdown at the Undead Ball is amusing, and the relationships between the flatmates are surprisingly warm and alive. And as much fun as the vampire humor is, it may be the throwaway lines that are the funniest. Some of them are so quiet or so quickly uttered that you barely notice them, which might warrant a second viewing if you enjoyed it the first time. Written and directed by Waititi and Clement. With Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stu Rutherford, and Rhys Darby.

No comments: