Film Review: What We Do In The Shadows

I can clearly remember my first enlightenment to What We Do In The Shadows. Eating lunch and reading a feature in Empire Magazine. Details of how this low budget spoof vampire documentary was a spectacularly clever and original film and an innovative twist on a genre that had become slightly stale over recent years through franchise outings.

This was then backed up when the reviews and critics started falling over themselves to lavish praise upon the film. Hyperbole, superlatives, the Synonyms section of Thesaurus.com all getting thrown heavily towards the merest mention of the film. I wanted to see it, but sadly being a small, low budget, Kiwi film meant its release in the UK was less than mainstream, and so I’ve had to wait, patiently, for it to finally arrive on the small screen in the UK.

Cast - What We Do In The Shadows

Because the wait has been so protracted, a lot of the initial excitement and expectation the reviews created in me had subsided. I hadn’t forgotten what it was about or how good it was meant to be, but I didn’t project anything onto the film, I simply sat down to watch it, clear mind and no pressure. And as a film, it really is good. I can see why it gained the praise and admiration it did. It lives in a world removed from anything possibly real, in which nothing of note really happens, and yet which is so entertaining and enjoyable that you physically cannot look at the unrealistic plot or story as a problem or criticism. Because it’s not.

The reason the film works so well is because of the characters. Their personalities just come screaming out of the film and each one while completely different gel perfectly. Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stuart Rutherford, Ben Fransham, it’s hard to find fault with any of them. To do so, honestly, is to completely miss judge the film. Granted they are never going to win an Oscar for their performances, but the tone of the film isn’t asking them to, it’s asking them to make you believe, however far-fetched their actions and motives, that they are real. And they do it more convincingly that I can explain.

Jonathan Brugh - What We Do In The Shadows

As I said earlier, the plot is unrealistic and extreme in both its silliness and implausibility; but that’s not a bad thing. It just keeps the tone of the film constant. There was no point where I started to question the idea behind the film. It could have been easy for the “documentary” to descend towards a level of seriousness that would feel wrong, to try and pretend it’s real, but the plot safe guards this. It keeps the madness constantly topped up and ensures that everything feels parodic. The film is meant to be a horror comedy, and while it’s not eye wateringly or belly crampingly funny, it raises chuckle after chuckle. It’s humour in keeping with the style, characters and over all product of the film.

I must say though, that while the plot and characters are caricatural throughout I did for a while wonder whether there was actually a hidden message under the surface about social stereotyping. If it is there I think it’s hard to really pin point a single definition, but I kept having this little niggling feeling in the back of my head that it was at times making references to the isolation, bullying and harassment the homosexual community has faced in it’s campaigns for equality and acceptance.

But to counter this, the title would suggest that any hidden mandate is directed more at a general wider sexual acceptance than just one specific group.

What We Do In The Shadows also manages an impressive feat of feeling far, far longer than it’s running time but in a very, very good way. It’s short. It’s less than 90 minutes long and yet I could have sworn it ran to over 2 hours while watching it. Being shot in the style of a documentary, it’s naturally slow and the pace only really changes with the natural rhythms of night to night life. It can’t twist into action or speed up cinematically without feeling unnatural. It just has to tick along like a clock. But it keeps you so entertained that I was actually glad it felt longer than it truly was. I enjoyed spending time in this world, with these characters.

Tilda Swinton & Tom Hiddleston - Only Lovers Left Alive

I really, really enjoyed What We Do In The Shadows, it really is a fun and welcome twist on a genre that was becoming stale and I actually think that it would make a really good double bill along with Only Lovers Left Alive, the Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston serious noire look at modern vampires, but I do have one problem though. While I loved the film, I hate the ending. I won’t spoil it, or mention why, aside to say it felt too abrupt and therefore, a little unsatisfactory compared to the enjoyment that went before. It’s still a cracking, silly, joyous, mad, daft, wonderful, funny film though, and certainly one I wouldn’t complain about having to see again.

8 out of 10 stars (8 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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