What We Do in the Shadows (Unison Films/Paladin, NR)

what_we_do_shadows_75It has a lot of great ideas and introduced plenty of funny scenarios, but it never fully fleshes anything out and is constantly chasing after the next thing, to diminishing returns.

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The new vampire comedy, What We Do in the Shadows, might be the most Christopher Guest-like movie made yet that Guest himself had nothing to do with. This seems logical enough coming from writer/directors Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, of Flight of the Conchords fame (though Waititi was just a sometimes writer/director on that show—don’t mistake him for Bret McKenzie, who’s apparently too flush with Muppets money to work with his old friends), who share a similar comedic sensibility to Guest. That said, What We Do in the Shadows is more firmly rooted in the mockumentary genre than anything Clement or Waititi have done in the past.

Shadows follows a quartet of vampires, sexy Vladislav (Clement), earnest go-getter Viago (Waititi), gruff and lazy Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), and the 8000-year old Nosferatu lookalike Petyr (Ben Fransham), as they engage in domestic squabbles, gather food, bicker with werewolves (including one played by Rhys Darby, aka Murray from Conchords), and prepare for a vampire reunion. The film works under the pretense that regular mortals are allowed to film the everyday lives of vampires for the first time, so though many talking head shots our stars explain various bits of vampire culture, which is mined for much funny material. (To paraphrase a comment on why vampires prefer virgin blood: “If you’re going to sit down and enjoy a sandwich, you want to be sure that no one fucked it first.”)

Of course it isn’t long into the film’s scant 86-minute runtime that one of our lead vampires turns a regular person, in this case the young and brash Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), who has a friend, Stu (Stuart Rutherford), who’s always hanging around. Stu has a constantly flushed face that implies he’s full of blood and would be good to have for dinner, and is therefore in constant danger in the vampires’ company even though everyone seems to like him quite a bit.

As you’ve probably gathered by now, What We Do in the Shadows is a funny film. But, it’s also a disappointing one. It has a lot of great ideas and introduced plenty of funny scenarios, but it never fully fleshes anything out and is constantly chasing after the next thing, to diminishing returns. Meanwhile, Clement doesn’t do enough to differentiate his Vladislav from the characters he’s played in the past, Waititi does entirely too much mugging for the camera, and the other characters are more intentionally annoying, which leaves the viewer with no one to really sink their teeth into (pun intended).

Prior to Flight of the Conchords’ premiere in 2007, I saw the Waititi-directed, Clement-starring feature film Eagle vs Shark, which I thought was one of the funniest, most underrated movies at Sundance 2007. Since then we’ve all become more accustomed to Clement’s comedic stylings, and they don’t seem as fresh as they used to. As such, I would expect that the people who most enjoy What We Do in the Shadows will be those who don’t entirely know what to expect of it. To the rest of us, it just feels like more of the same. | Pete Timmermann

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