Tuesday, January 19, 2016

New Zealand Vampire Flatmates, or Thoughts on What We Do In The Shadows

From an American perspective, New Zealand has always seemed like Australia’s Canada, a nicer, friendlier version of the land down under where the hobbits live amongst the sleeping dragons.   But even without Peter Jackson, New Zealand has been home to a thriving cinematic tradition with films like Once Were Warriors 1994, The Piano 1993 and Whale Rider 2002.  There’s also an excellent detective series that I highly recommend, Top of The Lake 2014 with Elizabeth Moss aka Zoe Bartlett, written by another New Zealand director you may know, Jane Campion.
Which brings us to one of the wittiest vampire comedies ever made, What We Do In the Shadows, 2014.  The premise is simple, New Zealand vampire roommates in Wellington.  These movies always work best when you take a normal, quotidian situation and add one murderous, surreal or supernatural element.  Zombies!  Killer Clowns!  Nuclear Apocalypse!  Home Invasion!  One Of Us is a Murderer!  Or in this case, Vampires!
Viago, Vladislav, Deacon, and Petyr are four vampire bachelors being followed by a documentary crew.  It’s a delicate balance between comedy and horror, in the sense that these vampires are well aware that they are being filmed and on their best behavior, but they still have to eat.  If vampires with chore wheels arguing over who does the dishes with a Nosferatu Graf Orloc lookalike lurking in the basement is your thing, and honestly, why wouldn’t it be, then this is your movie.
What We Do in The Shadows shifts gear when the group has to deal with Nick a modern vampire and his human best mate Stu, who can get the group into the popular clubs and introduce the gang to YouTube so they can finally watch a sunrise.  There is also an ongoing rivalry with the local werewolf support group to build comedic and dramatic tension.  The movie culminates in a party of course, the annual Unholy Masquerade; where all of Wellington’s vampires, zombies and witches meet and crown a new king and queen.  It’s like their prom, and all of us need to go more parties like this one.
It's brilliantly written, directed and performed by Taika Waititi, who also plays Viago, a 400 year-old vampire and default spokesman for the group.  All the classic horror elements are present but this film is not exactly scary, let’s call it an affectionate horror movie.  These are traditional vampires that are afraid of silver, crosses and daylight, classically supernatural and a tribute to the Hammer films of the 60’s and 70’s.  Personal highlights include Deacon’s erotic dance, the gang’s adoption of Stu and Vladislav’s nemesis and ex-girlfriend Paulene, aka “The Beast”.
The special effects are refreshingly old school with wires and blood squibs.  One of my primary criticisms with CGI is that they confuse realism with drama; the goal is not to present a digitally accurate spaceship or severed limb, but rather to create a sense of wonder or horror.  This is best accomplished with models and practical, in-camera effects, enhanced by the on-screen reactions by the actual actors who are seeing the same effects that we the audience are seeing.
What We Do in the Shadows makes an excellent double feature with Braindead AKA Dead Alive (1992).  If you do happen to see Braindead, look for a very young Peter Jackson cameo as the Undertaker’s Assistant.  And can you think of a better screen credit for a cameo than Undertaker’s Assistant?  You could make a whole movie based on that.  Maybe with a documentary crew in Wellington.

my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).