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Review: What We Do In The Shadows

All Mockumentaries surrounding well established pop culture tropes come with a high degree of difficulty. Go too far in one direction and the jokes seem forced. Take a more restrained or story driven approach and it might as well be a fictional film unencumbered by a centralized gimmick. What works so well about Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s delightfully silly and breezy What We Do in the Shadows is that it takes the best elements of the genre Christopher Guest has all but perfected over the past twenty years while combining it with a refreshingly episodic feel that allows the jokes and actors to showcase their talents without worrying about over thinking the material.

Waititi and Clement (who previously collaborated together on TVs Flight of the Conchords and the film Eagle vs. Shark) also star as Viago and Vladislav, two vampires living with a couple of similarly afflicted buddies in a flat in Wellington, New Zealand. All still dressed like it’s the middle ages, the roommates squabble about household chores, outside friends, problems with their food supply, and how much they abhor uppity werewolves.

There’s almost no plot whatsoever, and the film is designed to look appropriately downgrade outside of some nifty production and costume design for the centuries old lads, but the key to any comedy like this is a wealth of great character and performance work. Waititi’s fancy pants Viago makes for a great central character and audience surrogate: self-serious, slightly naive, and a consummate goof. Clement’s more refined, but intellectually buffoonish Vlasdislav has been stewing in the aftermath of a rather epic defeat at the hands of a nemesis and seems to have launched headlong into a mid-life crisis some 400 years in the making. The rebellious Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) still acts like a teenager hundreds of years later, but he learns a lesson in humility after turning an even more enthusiastic bro-type (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) who can’t shut up about being a vampire to save his life. Then there’s the Nosferatu styled O.G. Petyr (Ben Fransham) who’s too old to leave his crypt for longer than it takes to gruesomely devour his latest prey.

Waititi and Clement populate their film with plenty of asides and subplots that pay off in easy, but satisfying ways, giving the supporting cast plenty to work with. It’s a hard movie to dissect in any sort of critical way because it’s wall to wall jokes, almost all of which are funny and run the gamut from slight chuckles to uproarious belly laughs. Once one starts trying to unpack the dynamics of why the film works so well, any review would pretty much descend into giving away the film’s best and sometimes most surprising bits.

It’s a film best approached clueless, which fit’s the kind of faux-documentary Waititi and Clement are going for. It’s designed to be watched and re-watched for people who dig it to dig deeper into the cleverness. It’s a film that almost perfectly understands its own strengths and shortcomings to utilize both to the utmost advantage.

[star v=4]

Andrew Parker

Andrew Parker is a freelance film critic in Toronto. You can follow him on twitter @andrewjparker.