04th Nov2014

Mayhem 2014: ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ Review

by Dan Woolstencroft

Stars: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stuart Rutherford, Ben Fransham, Jackie van Beek, Elena Stejko, Jason Hoyte, Karen O’Leary, Mike Minogue, Chelsie Preston Crayford, Ian Harcourt, Ethel Robinson, Brad Harding | Written and Directed by Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi

What-we-Shadows-cast

Day three of Mayhem hosted a sold out screening of New Zealand vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows. This was clearly the most popular film of the festival, confirming there’s a fair amount of interest generated from the reviews at previous screenings.

I will admit to not being overly familiar with Flight of the Conchords. It’s difficult to say for sure how much a bearing that had on my enjoyment of What We Do in the Shadows, but at times I got the impression there were references here I was missing that I’d be more tuned into were I familiar with Jemaine Clement’s other work (Men in Black 3 aside, of course). The film centres on a group of four vampires living in New Zealand: There’s Vlad (who may or may not be the classic impaler, he’s more of a poker), the love-lorn Viago, the sexy (to himself anyway) Deacon, and the Nosferatu-like Petyr.

The film’s runtime plays as a series of connected sketches featuring the four housemates and their acquaintances, notably potential victim Nick, Deacon’s familiar Jackie, and Nick’s friend Stu. Each character gets their moment to shine, and their delivery and timing are excellent. If I had to call one out, I had the biggest problem with Jonathan Brugh’s Deacon. The vein (sorry) of humour for his character felt like it missed more than it hit, although he does get a few choice moments.When the humour strikes the right note it’s genuinely funny. There are some splendid Lost Boys references, and a superb encounter with a gang of local werewolves, some great hypnotism gags, and anyone with a taste for vampire humour should easily find something to enjoy. The film throws so many gags out that if one doesn’t work, there’s a good chance another immediately after will tickle you.

In terms of direction, the mockumentary technique means there isn’t much scope for flashy camera movements. There’s one sequence where potential victims are chased around the house which was well conceived, featuring housemates popping out time and time again in front of their victims. Special effects are few and far between. There’s some excellent bat transformation action, and some comedy wire work that pays further homage to Lost Boys. And, as you’d expect, there’s a fair bit of blood.

I overheard more than one person commenting on how silly the whole thing was and that’s absolutely fair; it’s clear that a lot of fun is being had making the picture, and I wonder if sometimes the gang found things funnier than their audience. If you’re turned off by goofy humour then you’re probably going to find this a complete turn off.

Ultimately, I think the film falls victim to a certain amount of overhyping. The huge turnout proves that What We Do in the Shadows‘ massive festival buzz is drawing people in, but it’s not the classic we’ve been led to believe. It’s funny, but it was probably the second funniest New Zealand film at the festival (Housebound taking the honour there) and Dead Snow 2 proved to be consistently funnier throughout. Funny is incredibly subjective, of course, so take all of the above with a pinch of garlic.

All of the above may seem rather negative, which isn’t completely fair. I had fun here, and I’m sure lots of others will too, and perhaps it fell victim to being placed third in a line up of very funny films. With expectations set appropriately, this should provide an entertaining bite of vampire comedy. I can’t promise side splitting hilarity, but I’m pretty sure you’ll have a thoroughly good time.

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