Thursday, February 15, 2018

"What We Do in the Shadows": brief review

It's been a while since I've watched a mockumentary (1984's "This Is Spinal Tap" is probably the previous one), but because "Thor: Ragnarok" had made me curious about the résumé of director Taika Waititi, I decided I needed to go back and see some of Waititi's previous directorial work. To that end, I purchased 2015's "What We Do in the Shadows" (co-directed with Jemaine Clement) and 2016's "Hunt for the Wilderpeople." I still haven't watched the latter, but a few days ago, I took in the former. "Shadows" is a comic documentary about four vampires who are flatmates living in Wellington, New Zealand. The movie stars Taika Waititi himself as Viago, a prissy and frou-frou vampire; Jemaine Clement as regal-but-tacky Vladislav ("Vlad the Poker"); Jonathan Brugh as Deacon, a vampire convinced of his studly charm; and Ben Fransham as Petyr, a taciturn, 8000-year-old vampire who looks somewhere between the classic cinematic Nosferatu and the TV version of Stephen King's Barlow.

Followed around by a documentary crew, the vampires give us a look into their weird, modern-day existence, which is about what you'd expect if you've watched any vampire movies before: prowling at night, selecting victims, transforming into bats, hissing a lot, being rejected from nightclubs (harsh because vampires need to be invited in), sharing household chores like dishwashing (Deacon has been negligent for years—hssssssss), being unable to see reflections in mirrors (which makes primping difficult), and mistreating familiars, who slave away in the hopes of eventually receiving eternal life. Three of the four vampires are fairly talkative; only ancient Petyr says nothing. Things change for the group when Jackie, Deacon's familiar, brings over her ex Nick, whom the group is supposed to kill and feast upon. Nick escapes the flat but is tackled and blood-sucked by Petyr; Nick comes back to the group, now a vampire, with his human friend Stu in tow, and further shenanigans ensue.

All in all, I found "Shadows" funny, but not gut-bustingly so. This doesn't make the movie a disappointment, but it does give me an idea of both the Kiwi sense of humor and Taika Waititi's sensibility as both an actor and a director. Tapping Waititi to direct a huge tentpole flick like "Thor: Ragnarok" seems like a bit of a stretch given how small-scale and low-budget "Shadows" is, but Marvel gambled and made an excellent choice. It's important to keep in mind that Peter Jackson, pre-LOTR, was making little comedies like "The Frighteners." Everyone has to start somewhere. Anyway, "Shadows" is good fun if you're in for a chuckle. All the vampire (and werewolf, and zombie) tropes are there, and are mostly played for laughs, especially whenever there's spraying blood involved.

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