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What We Do In The Shadows is in selected cinemas now.
One might expect a horror comedy to be released in the early Autumn, at the tail-end of the summer season and in the run-up to Hallowe’en: it would make very effective counter-programming to the bright and breezy blockbusters and the dour horrors that plague the holiday. Yet there is something about What We Do In The Shadows that makes it an appropriate antidote to all the typical schmaltz that cinemagoers must endure at this time of year. Perhaps it is the warm glow of the oil lamps and the frilly blouses of yesteryear, or the cloud of claret on the condensed breath of our antiheroes during their chilly soirées. Whatever the reason, What We Do In The Shadows possesses some of that Christmas magic, and is a wonderfully dark and tremendously funny winter feast.
The mockumentary has been around for a while and continues to grow in popularity. While there are many great examples of its comedic potential, recent mock-docs have been a little stale, failing to bring any fresh blood to the genre. Enter Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, who have brought the format to new heights by combining the recent advances in found-footage horror visual effects with the sharply observed characterisations of the mockumentary to create something unique and hilarious.
What We Do In The Shadows introduces us to a small group of vampire lads, of varying ages (from 8,000 to just 136 years old), living in a house-share in Wellington, New Zealand. For reasons the film never bothers to explain, a documentary crew follows them in their daily routines as they deal with the pressures of feeding, avoiding public scrutiny and cleaning the dishes. Just thinking about the potential in such a simple premise raises a smile; but Clement, Waititi and their wonderful cast of largely unknown faces manage to defy every expectation the audience has. The result is a surprising, deeply satisfying and downright funny film that somehow manages to spoof the mockumentary format, gothic horror tropes and modern obsession with vampires all at once, while reinforcing our fondness for all three at the same time. It is quite a feat.
The highlight for many will be the cameo by a rival werewolf pack (the film does not disguise its digs at Twilight) who constantly try to keep themselves calm and dignified: “Werewolves, not swearwolves” is their mantra. Yet this is just the film’s most quotable moment: in truth there are many better jokes in it, but too many to recall. In the first half an hour alone, as the audience was brought to tears of laughter, I found myself remarking “That’s the best joke of the year,” on three separate occasions. Now I can hardly remember what those jokes were, because every minute gave us a new, equally hilarious gag to outshine what came before.
What We Do In The Shadows‘ strength is its pitch-perfect tone. The comedy never strays too far to undermine the horror, nor do the scares get so intense they spoil the joke. Its characters exhibit just the right mix of self-knowing silliness and heartfelt conviction to make us care about their journey, and to laugh with them as much as we laugh at them. There has not been a mockumentary this engrossing since This Is Spinal Tap, nor one so endearing. Like the best mock-docs, What We Do In The Shadows ends on a touching note.
And in a strange way, that also makes it one of the best horror films for a long while. It does not stint on the gore, nor does it shy away from the abhorrent violence of their (post)lifestyles. We sympathise with creatures we would never like to meet on a dark night: we revolt at their murderous deeds while simultaneously cheering their successful escapes from annihilation. The viewer is left feeling deeply disturbed on one level and amused on another – something about the banality of all the blood makes What We Do In The Shadows a far more effective portrait of a vampire’s existence than Anne Rice could ever hope to achieve.