What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

2017 #138
Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi | 86 mins | Blu-ray | 1.78:1 | New Zealand & USA / English & German | 15 / R

What We Do in the Shadows

There’s no two ways about it: I’m late to the party with What We Do in the Shadows. After rave reviews at film festivals and when it was released in some countries (including the UK) in 2014, its acclaim as a cult comedy seemed to reach a focal point in early 2015 when a Kickstarter campaign to give it a wider US release attracted over 7,000 backers and the best part of half-a-million dollars. I recall preordering the Blu-ray in the wake of the slow-burning fuss I kept hearing about it. That came out in April 2015, and swiftly ended up on one of my many unwatched piles… until now!

For the sake of those who are even later to it than me, it’s a mockumentary about a group of housemates in Wellington, New Zealand, who are vampires. With each of them being hundreds of years old, they’re thoroughly out of touch with the modern world — until they make some new, younger friends…

This juxtaposition allows the film two rich strands of humour. Firstly, it riffs off vampire movie clichés and references — there are bits about sleeping in coffins, turning into a bat, and so on. In a similar vein, each of the housemates is a version of a classic movie vampire: there’s a silent Nosferatu-ish one; a violent womanising Dracula-ish one; an effeminate dandyish one; and so on. There are also various scenes that play on vampires’ familiar abilities by featuring a neat and often surprising use of special effects — the film’s so low-budget and so naturalistically staged, you’re not expecting any outright fantastical stuff. That element of unexpectedness makes such moments all the more effective.

Night life

In the second strand, it embraces mundanity — putting these supernatural creatures in the same dull suburban lifestyles that we all know, like struggling to get into the good nightclubs, or a supposedly grand ball taking place in a rundown community centre. Perhaps best of all are bits which straddle the two stools — the practicalities of being a vampire; like how do you get dressed up to go out if you can’t see your reflection, or having to clean up the mess after drinking someone’s blood. The film plays these various comic facets with a great deal of wit and cleverness, but it’s also suitably silly, which allows the humour to function at various levels. What’s even more surprising is that, as it goes on and we build up a connection to these characters, it becomes actually quite touching at times.

Apparently writer-directors Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi wrote more than 150 pages of screenplay for the film, then didn’t actually show it to any of the cast so they would improvise scenes and be surprised by plot developments. That resulted in over 125 hours of footage, which took almost a year to edit down to just an hour and a half. (No wonder the Blu-ray includes piles of deleted, extended, and additional footage.) On the one hand, perhaps that helps explain why the film is so funny — they were able to really cherrypick the best bits. On the other other, it makes the final result all the more impressive — that they were able to hone storylines and character arcs from that immense supply of material. And it still clocks in at just 86 minutes! Hollywood moviemakers who let their part-improvised comedies sprawl to baggy two-hours-plus running times might learn a thing or two here.

Drinking blood

Perhaps the more familiar you are with vampire fiction the more you’ll get out of What We Do in the Shadows’ humour, but I don’t think that’s a prerequisite to enjoying it — I should think knowing the basics of vampire mythology is enough to get laughs from the majority of the movie without feeling like you’re missing anything. And in the end, the most important thing is that it’s incredibly funny. Or, as the poster accurately puts it, “hilarious, hilarious, hilarious, hilarious, hilarious, hilarious, hilarious, hilarious, hilarious, hilarious, hilarious, hilarious.”

5 out of 5

What We Do in the Shadows is available on iPlayer until 28th November.

It placed 12th on my list of The 17 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2017, which can be read in full here.

The UK TV premiere of Taika Waititi’s previous film, Boy, is on Film4 tonight at 10:50pm.
His new film,
Thor: Ragnarok, is out everywhere now and is reviewed here.

The Lost in Time, Like Tears in Rain, Monthly Update for October 2017

This month includes three shorts and two feature films in the Blade Runner universe, one of them a contender for Film of the Year. Now I just need to dig out the old computer game…


#129 Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
#130 Public Access (1993)
#130a Blade Runner: Black Out 2022 (2017)
#130b 2036: Nexus Dawn (2017)
#130c 2048: Nowhere to Run (2017)
#131 Perfect Sense (2011)
#132 Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
#133 The Straight Story (1999)
#134 Manchester by the Sea (2016)
#135 Assassin’s Creed 3D (2016)
#136 Frost/Nixon (2008)
#137 Vixen (2017)
#138 What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
#139 Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D (2008)
#140 Train to Busan (2016), aka Busanhaeng
#141 Silence (2016)
#142 The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010)
#143 Rurouni Kenshin (2012), aka Rurouni Kenshin Part I: Origins
#144 The Heat (2013)
#145 Moon (2009)
#146 RocknRolla (2008)
#147 In the Loop (2009)
#148 Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
#149 Rurouni Kenshin 2: Kyoto Inferno (2014), aka Rurōni Kenshin: Kyôto taika-hen
#150 The Exorcist (1973)
#151 Vehicle 19 (2013)
Blade Runner 2049

Train to Busan

Rurouni Kenshin 2: Kyoto Inferno

.


  • With 23 new feature films watched this month, October becomes the best month of 2017 so far, beating the 20 of March.
  • It smashes the October average (12.78), raising it over one whole film in the process (to 13.8). It’s not the highest October ever, but October 2015 is my highest-ever month, so, you know.
  • It also surpasses the average for 2017 to date (14.2; now 15.1) and the rolling average of the last 12 months (13.83; now 14.58).
  • Reaching #151 means 2017 is already my third best year. I’d have to reach #196 for second place, which I’m not on track to do. But come the end of the year I’ll factor in the Rewatchathon too, and that may say differently…
  • This month’s Blindspot film: it was Halloween, so I saved the film still advertised as “the scariest of all time” for October — William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. S’not that scary. S’good, though.
  • This month’s WDYMYHS film: with Duncan Jones’ new film coming to Netflix sometime this year, I finally got round to the movie that made his name (and his Twitter name in particular), Moon.



The 29th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
There were a fair few films I enjoyed a lot this month — indeed, when I’m finally done reviewing them, there could be as many as nine five-star ratings handed out (that’d be 39% of this month’s films, well above my average of 16.7%). In most months that’d make this a very tough choice, but after only a little consideration it’s clear that the winner has to be Blade Runner 2049.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Conversely, there were a few clangers too — again, several I’d be happy to give this dishonour to. The most egregious of them all was Vehicle 19, a thriller whose high concept was right up my alley, but was so poorly realised that I’ll be giving it a very low score indeed.

Film I Most Often Forgot to Review This Month
I watched Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows partly so I could review it the day his Thor sequel hit UK cinemas… but I forgot. Then I discovered it was going to be on BBC Two last Sunday night… but that was only 55 minutes before it was due to start. I guess next I’ll aim to tie my review to Thor 3 coming out in the US… but I’ll probably forget.

Most Surprisingly Popular Review of the Month
My most-read post for the past two months in a row is The Past Fortnight on TV #22. Is that because of The Defenders? The Game of Thrones finale? The long-awaited return of Agent Cooper to Twin Peaks? Well, I’m sure they all helped, but my stats say the highest number of referrals from IMDb (far higher than anything else in that post) came from Designated Survivor. Who’d’ve thunk it?

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Reviews of new cinema releases almost always do well, and so two of them duked it out for the top spot this month: Blade Runner 2049, which sat clear for most of the month, and Thor: Ragnarok, which took a run at it in the last week. With 24 hours to go it was still a tight race: they were separated by fewer hits than Thor had typically been getting in a day. But in the end the Marvel movie didn’t get anywhere near that many yesterday, leaving Blade Runner 2049 this month’s victor.



I always thought that the next time I watched Blade Runner it would be to finally see the original theatrical version. That’ll have to wait for another day: because I was rewatching it the night before 2049, it seemed most appropriate to choose the ‘official’ final version.

#36 Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982/2007)
#37 Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)
#38 Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)
#39 Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)
#40 The Reckless Moment (1949)

I’ve got a long list of things to consider rewatching for this project, but that’s frequently going ignored in favour of where my whims take me. So, after randomly alighting on Wayne’s World last month, I fancied carrying on through Mike Myers’ oeuvre, thus all three Austin Powers flicks are here (with my short Letterboxd comments on each linked to above). It’ll be Shrek next. (That was a joke, but, actually, it is something I’ve been planning to rewatch…)

Finally, film noir The Reckless Moment. I first watched it over a decade ago (and reviewed it here) and have been meaning to revisit it for a lot of that time because I thought I’d been unfair to it. Now, I’m not so sure. It’s got a lot of good stuff — the cast, the direction, the concept — but parts of it are rushed or underemphasised. Although it’s not all it could be, I feel like something will keep drawing me back to it. Not any time soon — that’s not in my nature — but someday. Maybe, ironically, some of the appeal lies in the imperfections.


As 2017 hurtles towards 2018, the big screen offers up a death on a train, a marmalade-loving bear, and a league of justice. Feel free to guess which is the only one of those I’m likely to bother going to the cinema for.