Review: What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #719

 

 

Number of Views: One
Release Date: February 13, 2015
Sub-Genre: Mockumentary
Country of Origin: New Zealand, United States
Budget: $1,600,000
Box Office: $6,900,000
Running Time: 85 minutes
Directors: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Producers: Taika Waititi, Chelsea Winstanley, Emanuel Michael
Screenplay: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Special Effects: Don Brooker, Doug Falconer
Cinematography: Richard Bluck, D.J. Stipsen
Score: Plan 9
Editing: Jonathan Woodford-Robinson, Yana Gorskaya, Tom Eagles
Studios: Resnick Interactive Development, Unison Films, Defender Films, Funny or Die, New Zealand Film Commission
Distributor: Madman Entertainment
Stars: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Jonathan Brugh, Ben Fransham, Jackie Van Beek, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stu Rutherford, Rhys Darby, Ethel Robinson, Elena Stejko, Karen O’Leary, Mike Minogue

 

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Black English “Leave The Door Wide Open”
[2] Antonio Vivaldi “Gloria in D Major, RV 589”
[3] Lawrence Arabia “Sex Meat”
[4] Norma Tanega “You’re Dead”
[5] LeningradLastochka”

 

Some decidedly strange shit goes on in the shadows. Take subway flashers for example, it is pretty much unheard of for one of these ballsy braggarts to parade beneath bright lights as what they do isn’t widely accepted by society. Instead, they lurk in the darkest recesses, biding their time until some unsuspecting prey wanders into their jurisdiction, before flaunting their assets on a strictly “need to know” basis.

It isn’t that they’re ashamed of their vocation, more that folk tend to fear what they don’t understand and an old man’s sagging bollocks certainly fit the bill. Thus, whether they like it or not, what they do is best reserved for the shadows. That said, while public penile pageants are generally frowned upon, there are actually far more sinister things that go down in the shadows.

Vampirism is one such pernicious pursuit and, for those afflicted with its eternal curse, prancing about in broad daylight is deemed an absolute no-no. Exposure to the sun’s rays can have dire repercussions and they are left no choice but to partake in their bloodsucking activities nocturnally. This may appear a rather menial adjustment to make but, after 379 years of roaming the Earth only when the sun goes down, I’d imagine it would begin to grate a little. Nevertheless, whatcha gonna do?

Entry into such an exclusive club comes with its challenges and at least they’re not forced to endure daytime television. Of course, there is such a thing as safety in numbers. After a hard night painting the town red, it’s nice to return home and put your feet up, while catching up on current events from a fellow nightcrawler. You see, the thing about shadows, is that they can accommodate more than one baleful lurker at a time, provided you’ve decked your halls with blackout blinds.

Our journey today takes us to the Wellington suburb of Te Aro, where four close fiends co-exist together in approximate harmony. Each of their blood lines has been long-since tainted and vampirism isn’t something they delight in per se, more a way of eternal life that has chosen them and one not accepting of non-committal. Their base of operations is essentially a bachelor pad, some place where boys can be boys away from prying eyes, and indulge their every last delusion of grandeur.

It just so happens that, with the annual Unholy Masquerade fast approaching, our resident ghouls have agreed to be filmed in their unnatural habitat and this means an access all areas tour guide through the shadows that they call home. Here we can observe the lads in their never-ending state of arrested development and hopefully glean a little more intelligence on the uppers and downers of eternal youth. Just to be clear, I cannot be held responsible for their actions once inside their crypt, and you are kind of entering at your own peril. It may be worth keeping a sprig of garlic on your personage at all times, that’s all I’m saying.

I guess it would be considered tasteless not to start with the self-pronounced patriarch, Viago. It’s not that he wishes to come across all superior, more that OCD can be a drain on one’s patience, and after three centuries of cleaning up after a rowdy rabble like his, someone has to don the marigolds. At a modest 379 years young, Viago is still relatively wet behind the neck with regards to nightcrawling, but the days of being fangloose and fancy free are regrettably some way in his shadowy slipstream.

You see, if there’s one thing Viago simply cannot abide, then it’s clutter and it’s no fun waiting a decade for some other bastard to wash the dishes. Sharing a confined space with three others gave up being enjoyable the very moment the dirty linen basket ceased miraculously emptying itself and that was around a week into his tenure. Since then, Viago has been left with no option but to nag incessantly and, should things grow untenable, then he may be forced to call an urgent house meeting and vent his archaic frustration.

Former tyrant Vladislav may be almost five hundred years his senior, but the thing about turning vampiric, is that any idiosyncrasies have a habit of travelling with you once bitten and smitten. 308,790 moons ago, when “Vlad The Poker” was first granted immunity to aging, ancient rumor has it he was “a bit of a pervert”. The way he sees it, why change the habit of a lifetime, especially a dozen lifetimes down the line after becoming long since set in his ways.

If I have one word of advice, then entail thinking at least twice before entering Vladislav’s boudoir without knocking first as things can get fairly indecent when he chooses to entertain. After kicking things off with an ice-breaking orgy or several, Vlad likes to crank things up a notch and I’ve never before spoken more literally. Should you be missing a daughter, then chances are, she has become his plaything to slaughter. And that happens to tie in rather snugly with his cruel methods of torture.

Next to Vlad, Deacon looks… well… the same age if I’m honest. You certainly wouldn’t think he was nearly 700 years his junior. He may be the most juvenile in terms of semesters served and vaguely resemble a rock star, but there is far more to Deacon than the “young rebel” label he has been pigeonholed into. Granted, he won’t commence hissing if you place him front and centre for a spot of sexy dancing, but Deacon’s tastes are nothing if not eclectic, as attested by his fondness for crocheting.

Should he be fortunate enough to catch a performance at his local gentleman’s club and manage to transfix the buxom bunny in question using his persuasive vampire charm, then he can offer her a knitted scarf for the short stroll back to the shadows and everyone wins (except for her). Not very rock star behavior I know, but who’s to say that Ozzy Osbourne can’t perform a cross-stitch in-between gurns? Actually scrap that, I’m not altogether sure that Sharon would trust him on the sewing machine pedal. My point being that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. That is unless said piece of literature is older than the ancient scriptures.

At the ripe old age of 8,000, Petyr has toenail clippings older than his other three flatmates combined and is therefore more than entitled to a little “Petyr time” down in his stonewalled crypt. Whatever you do, don’t mention the fact that he eerily resembles Count Orlok as he gets that all the time and barely leaves his sarcophagus because of cruel jibes along the lines of “Well wouldn’t you know it, here comes Nosferatu. Looking a bit pale there grandpa”. Vampires may never have to worry about aging, but that’s scant consolation to Petyr, who looked 8,000 years old before he was even turned.

Alas, Petyr’s well-honed skills at skulking with menace are no longer being put to good use and good honest virgins are decidedly hard to come by in this day and age. Thankfully, his eternal travel companions respect their elders enough to toss him down some scraps from time to time. If you ask me, his live-in tomb is a bloody deathtrap and Viago may wish to consider getting a carbon monoxide detector fitted as his pasty white flesh would burn up faster than a tampon doused in gasoline if a fire were to break out unexpectedly.

I guess while we’re playing happy families, I should introduce you to the latest raw recruit to earn his bat wings, Nick. I told you the guys see to it that Petyr doesn’t go hungry and Nick is the eternally living proof of their thoughtfulness. By all accounts, Nick is the very epitome of “knucklehead” and his constant bragging about being able to transform into mist at will and how much fresh meat he has bled is bound to get old eventually. But if he’s looking to score points with his new compadres, then he’s going about it the right way by hanging around with Stu.

The jury may be out on Nick but it’s the collective consensus that the sun shines out of Stu’s asshole (not literally, that would be a fart away from calamity). So what can a feeble human like Stu ever hope to bring to the table? That’s elementary my dear Watsons – technology. You think it’s easy sussing out how to navigate a smart phone when you herald from another era entirely? Vampires are known for many things – never growing old, shape shifting, hypnosis, biting necks – but being cyber-savvy ain’t one of them and this is where Stu becomes indispensable.

Should Vladislav desire to set up his own Instagram account, then it’s Stu who can make that shit happen but it’s more than just his technological expertise that makes his presence so welcome. You see, every group of close fiends needs a Stu, the kind of affirmative thinking gentleman who folk tend to gravitate towards naturally. It’s the fact that he embodies all that is good about the world that makes them so reluctant to sink their fangs into his jugular and drain him bone dry. Besides, that would be even more fine mess for Deacon’s long-suffering familiar Jackie to clean up (not that she doesn’t secretly love it).

Personally, I just think it’s great that they’re practising tolerance as it’s not a characteristic that vampires are known for. But what I’m fast learning from this whole fly-on-the-wall meet and greet is that they’re not actually all that different from humans, aside from the fact that their staple diet comprises the blood of virgins of course. For all their batty ways and ghoulish quirks, they live by the same set of rules as those they prey on. It’s all too easy to get so swept up by the romanticism of being a vampire that we forget someone still has to arrange for the boiler to be serviced and disinfect the lavatory once every decade or so.

Spending time with Viago, Vlad, Deacon and Petyr has taught me that it’s a hard knock afterlife too and I take tremendous comfort from such continuity. It would be great to croak, only to be rudely awaked seconds later by your own death rattles, knowing that it’s not all change for the foreseeable. Actually kind of makes me want to offer up a vein you know. Naturally I’d rather they didn’t slurp me of too many quarts of life blood, at least, not in one sitting.

But perhaps just a faint nibble just to show my appreciation for the cordial invite and all. Just one thing, I’m tossing Petyr’s jaundiced junk, want to make that crystal before you commence your siphoning and wish it to be known that has nothing to do with his balls being 8,000 years old before you go crying “that’s an ism”. It has to do with them being balls. Pardon me for harping on but didn’t one of you ghouls mention something about virgins?

Heavens, is that the time? My sincere apologies for any encroachment on my part but I’d like to make it known that I’ve had a thoroughly fiendish time kicking it wit’ my homies. You want to see a grown man bleed from his retinas? Then subject to me to any more found footage and you’ll be granted that wish barely a minute in. Mockumentaries on the other hand, well my pickle happens to be somewhat ticklish when it comes to this particular whip-smart approach to storytelling. From Rob Reiner’s This is Spinal Tap to anything whatsoever that Christopher Guest tosses together (Best in Show and A Mighty Wind take a bow), this sub-genre is nigh on second to none when done right. What We Do In The Shadows does it right.

While never quite scaling the giddy heights of Guest at his most outrageous, is isn’t actually any more than a country mile away as the bat flies and this is testament to the kind of hugely endearing characters that Clement and Waititi have concocted. For all their centuries of field experience, it’s their naïveté that is most disarming. Watching Viago’s eyes widen as Stu informs him that you can find anything on Google before requesting he type “I lost a really nice silk scarf in about 1912” makes me just want to spoon him in his casket and What We Do In The Shadows is liberally peppered with charming moments such as this. There’s even time for a dash of Crips vs. Bloods style rivalry, courtesy of a local pack of werewolves (led by the delightful Rhys Darby) and a grudge that goes way further back than any of this Edward vs. Jacob malarkey.

Most critically, while Clement and Waititi have their tongues so far through their cheeks that they can lick each other’s sideburns, what strikes me most is the evident affection they have for vampire folklore. However, it’s the matter-of-fact approach they take to tackling these time-honored tropes that I find most refreshing.

After 85 minutes of kicking back with Viago and his cronies, I’ve come to realize that they’re human too, just like we are. Okay so perhaps not exactly but there are some fairly hefty parallels to be drawn between the two. Legend has it that you should never invite a vampire into your home and I guess that ship has sailed now for me as I already planned a reunion. But I’m still not giving Petyr that hand job.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 2/5

 

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Shooting a vampire movie without claret would be like letting O.J. Simpson off the leash without an electronic ankle tag – utterly irresponsible and the good news is that there’s a fair-sized vat of the deep red coulis on jettison here. We may not be talking fellow kiwi Peter Jackson’s Braindead levels of gushing grue but there’s still plenty of veins being tapped.

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Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

 

 

 

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