Tuesday, February 10, 2015

New Zealand vampires at play in Clement & Waititi's WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS

When vampires arrive in New Zealand, I guess you've got to admit that they've done it: They have finally and thoroughly covered the globe. There may have been another New Zealand-made vampire movie or two, but I think it's safe to say that there has never been a funnier one -- from anywhere on earth -- than WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, the new comic mockumentary about a quartet of the undead who inhabit a very rundown house in some suburb or other (if I'm not mistaken, it's around Wellington, on the southern end of the north island).

The writers/directors of this sublime piece of nonsense are Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi (shown above, right and left, respectively), the guys responsible for, among other things, the cable series Flight of the Conchords, and while there have been other comic vampire movies over the decades, even the best of these don't come near the delights reached by this one.

Rather than ruin your surprise and appreciation by giving away the plot, the funny bits and all else that moviegoers should experience firsthand, I'll just concentrate on some of the reasons the movie works so well, then leave you to it. The premise, the knowing of which will not spoil a thing, involves a documentary crew invited in to film the household. This, of course, is the biggest crock of them all: No self-respecting vampire would ever OK something like this. The film's title, in fact, belies it completely, else they'd have called the movie We Live in the Bright Lights of the VideoCam. So you must simply stomp on your disbelief and go with the premise. It's worth it -- just to meet and spend some time with these guys.

How these four -- plus the couple of additions they add along the way -- manage and scramble the typical vampire's life and concerns makes for pretty consistent hilarity. The filmmakers certainly know their vampire lore and how to upend it with humor and surprise. They also understand the important of creating unusually rich and rounded (for this genre, anyway) characters for each of their four roommates and their two new friends.

While each fellow has his special and often spectacular characteristic, it's Mr. Waititi (above) as our host and sort-of narrator/guide who proves the most delightful. How he manages to capture so much charm and sweetness, as well as the sadness about what a vampire has to do (below), adds up to one of the great performances of this or really any other year. It's original and memorable.

Mr. Clement plays his character, Vlad (below), as the sexiest of the bunch, and does a number of nice turns along the way, while the the other two flatmates, Deacon and Petyr,  plus new arrivals Nick and Stu add to the oddity and jest.

Petyr is an ancient Nosferatu type (pictured in the second and third photos above, and at bottom), while Deacon has a difficult time keeping up his part of the bargain (which entails his doing the dishes -- which look to have been sitting in the sink for eons). Nick (a recently "turned" vampire) and Stu (Nick's best friend and a mere human who is tolerated by our boys for reasons that become funnier and funnier as the movie progresses) join another human enabler named Jackie (I believe she is what is called a "familiar") who has been promised eternal life but is beginning to wonder if she's ever actually going to get it.

In so many of these would-be comic vampire tales -- from the Polanski debacle to Love at First Bite and Dracula: Dead and Loving It -- the humor is occasionally funny and always obvious. Here, it bounces off what we know and expect, instantly becoming something new and different -- used in a manner that relates hilariously well to the way we live now.

How do vampires prepare to dress up and go out, since mirrors won't work for them? What happens when they go clubbing but must first be invited in before entering that club?

Oh, yes, and what about those werewolves? What We Do in the Shadows puts utterly to shame the used-to-near-distraction "rumbles" of those tiresome Twilight movies. I can't go on, or I'll start giving away even more. So just hie your little tush to the nearest theater showing this treat, or see it soon via VOD or streaming.

From Paladin and Unison Films and running a swift 86 minutes, the movie opens this Friday, February 13 in New York City at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema and in Los Angeles at the Arclight Hollywood. It hits another dozen cities the following week. Click here and scroll down to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

Clement and Waititi, by the way, will be doing personal appearances in both NYC and L.A. -- at NY's Sunshine on Friday, Feb 13 after the 7 and 9 pm shows, and in L.A. on Sat. and Sun. after the 7:05 & 9:40 shows.

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