Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Repost: What We Do in the Shadows (February 19th at CWRU Strosacker Auditorium)

[WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS screens Friday February 19th at 7, 9, and 11:00 pm at the Case Western Reserve University Strosacker Auditorium.]

Review by Wayne Richards

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS is a brilliant new comedy from the creative minds of two of New Zealand’s finest and funniest performers. Jemaine Clement (the bespectacled bassist of Flight of the Conchords) has teamed up with Oscar-nominated filmmaker Taiki Waititi (Two Cars, One Night) to make this unrelenting chuckle fest centered on the dilemmas of the modern day vampire. Together, Clement and Waititi have written, directed and starred in a movie that is on par with anything in the pantheon of the great improvisational, mockumentary-style films of Christopher Guest.

A documentary crew has been granted access to film the everyday lives (if you can call it that) of four vampires living together in a flat in Wellington, NZ. The taskmaster is Viago (Waititi), an 18th century dandy who can be quite fussy when it comes to housekeeping. Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) is a slovenly brute, incapable of completing the simplest chore. Vladislav (Clement) falls somewhere in between the two; once known as Vladislav the Poker, he has softened a bit over the years and his once-cherished torture chamber is rarely used. Peter (the eldest at 8,000 years old), is a spitting image of Murnau’s Nosferatu; devoid of speech and dwelling in the basement amidst the scattered skeletons of his numerous victims. They are observed in the months leading up to an annual gathering of an undead secret society, culminating in a celebratory bash known as The Unholy Masquerade. While most vampire flicks focus on glorifying the supernatural aspects (don’t get me wrong, WWDITS pokes fun at the genre with plenty of levitation and hissing), this film looks more at the human side of bloodsuckers; dealing with overlooked household responsibilities and a lack of common courtesy among roommates are at the heart of the hilarity.

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS also brings to light how vampires can spend their down time (between feeding on and killing innocent humans) with meaningful and artistic hobbies. Sculpting, knitting, hallway archery, and exuberance for showcasing a surprisingly poor set of skills at various musical instruments play a large part in the daily existence of these fanged fiends. Also of great importance is the vampire’s appearance, a subject the directors delve into fully in inspecting the difficulty of carrying out the vampire’s supreme duty of looking sexy. At one point Viago quips, “One of the unfortunate things about not having a reflection is that you don’t know exactly what you look like.” Choosing victims with decent fashion sense and a similar frame apparently results in stockpiling a proper wardrobe. A run-in with a pack of sensitive werewolves (led by the phenomenal Rhys Darby), a pair of clueless cops and an inquisitive zombie add to the fun.

Although we get buckets of blood and gore o’ plenty, production values are classy and the violence comes off as not being campy or cheesy. There are also angles explored in this movie that have been previously overlooked in the vampire genre . The outcome of improper fang placement on a victim’s neck, the difficulty of persuading bouncers to gain entry into a club, the vampire counsel’s procession of shame and what stressing over an ex-girlfriend can do to a vampire’s complexion are all examined here in truly hilarious fashion. I can only hope that this is the first of many comedic collaborations with the writing/directing/acting tandem of Clement and Waititi at the helm. This is essential comedy. 4 out of 4 stars.

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