Sunday, March 1, 2015

What We Do In The Shadows

Alternate Title:  Hobbiton by Night

One sentence synopsis:    Documentarians film a group of vampires around Wellington for several months, learning about their lives and habits.

Things Havoc liked:  With as many movies as I watch, I don't get around to seeing a lot of television. As such, while I've certainly heard of New Zealand-based comedy group Flight of the Conchords, mostly thanks to their musical stylings, I have not seen a great deal of their work on screen at any point. Still, reputation is reputation in this sort of thing, and with the Doldrums still upon us, a small indie offering from Kiwiland about Vampires seemed as good an option as any. Words cannot describe the horrors that otherwise awaited.

So... Wellington, New Zealand: Southernmost capital city in the world. Quaintly picturesque town nestled on the straights between the North and South islands. Headquarters for the production of the Lord of the Rings. Overrun by vampires. But fear not, would-be visitors, a collection of fearless cameramen and documentarians have ventured forth to draw back the curtain from the dark world of these dwellers of the night. Finally the truth can be known.

What We do in the Shadows is a mockumentary in the style of Christopher Guest, centered around a group of four flatmate vampires living in one of the more boring cities on Earth, and engaging in their nightly routine of hunting, bloodsucking, and performing dark rites. Sort of. Explaining what actually happens over the course of this movie would sort of defeat the point, I feel, as that's the point of the jokes in the first place, all of which work better in context than they would here. So let's turn to the vampires themselves. Taika Waititi, a filmmaker I've barely heard of, plays Viago, a German transplant vampire who moved to New Zealand in pursuit of his lost love but got waylaid when his coffin was rejected for insufficient postage. Fluttering about the shared flat, he clashes alternately with Deacon (Johnathan Brugh), a douchebag who seems to have gone on with his douchebaggery in the afterlife, circumstances be damned, and Vladislav (Jermaine Clement), a morose sex-obsessed technophobe (initially), who may or may not be Vlad the Impaler, and who spends most of the movie shivering in terror at the mention of his arch-nemesis, "The Beast". As the filmmakers follow these three around, we meet all manner of other denizens of the Wellington underworld, from Peter, an eight-thousand-year-old Nosferatu-knockoff, to a local pack of new-age Werewolves, to Nick and Stu, a fledgeling vampire brought into the coven early on, and his human associate who helps the Vampires discover the wonders of such modern marvels as Facebook and selfies.

This all sounds dry, I know, but the humor in this film is very dry, in a sort of spur-of-the-moment style with references and in-jokes worthy of any mockumentary I can recall. From Deacon's familiar Jackie, pissed off that she hasn't been turned into a Vampire yet while being forced to run his errands and clean up after his "feeding" efforts, to Vladislav's... "skills" at hypnosis, to Nick's conception of subtlety when it comes to disguising his nature as a vampire, to how the Werewolves deal with their... condition... the entire affair is a welter of circumstantial comedy, none of which, I'm afraid, will play well here. The film also uses its indie-documentary style to send up found footage films, periodically turning in satire far worthier than anything the Scary Movie series has put out.

Things Havoc disliked:  You kind of have to like films like this, films that sort of wander around without a point to them, in order to get much out of this. There is no plot to the film, no arc, no narrative progression. Characters do have things happen to them, yes, some of which have been established before, but there is no real unifying theme to the movie beyond the characters existing and being followed by the camera crews. I realize that documentaries and the films that ape them work differently than feature films, but even fake-true stories are supposed to be stories, and there's no real equivalent to Waiting for Guffman's theatrical performance, or Best in Show's dog show, the central unifying event around which the movies were made, and which served as a sort of climax. Attempts are made with the undead masquerade ball that the characters are looking forward to for much of the film, but the ball itself doesn't really pay anything off and the characters go on thereafter as though it were simply another incident. Even when aping real life, it's possible to be a bit too meandering.

Final thoughts:   The difficulty with a movie like this is that there really isn't a lot to say here. You really are going to like the concept of this film or you are not. I saw the thing based on a single trailer at an indie showcase some weeks ago, and thought it was hilarious and fun. Someone else might take one look at this review's description and think it was the most boring thing on Earth. They would probably not be wrong. But the fact that the jokes, in fact the film itself, works only in context, makes it rather proof against any attempt to review it. Flight of the Conchords made a fake-documentary-comedy about New Zealand vampires living in a flat in Wellington. Whether you think this sounds like the sort of thing you would like or whether you think it doesn't, you're probably right.

Final Score:  7/10

Next Time:  Goddamned if I know.  Doldrums season strikes again.  Maybe Will Smith remaking Matchstick Men?

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