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What We Do In The Shadows (2014) Review: A Satire Masterwork

With his hilariously innovative comedy What We Do In The Shadows, Taika Waititi single-handedly revolutionised the mockumentary genre.

For as long as storytelling has been around, tales of dark creatures with sunken eyes and a superhuman thirst for blood have been passed from generation to generation through the nightmares and deepest fears of ancient civilization. Vampires, a hidden sect of creatures that represent the most unnatural aspects of mankind, have lived on for centuries in tales of death and gore. The darkest manifestations of ourselves, banished where we can neither see them nor be seen by them. But what Taika Waititi proposes with What We Do In The Shadows is a new reinvention of these twisted tales; an acceptance of these foul creatures into our own natural world. What if vampires were… just normal men?

A documentary in form and a satirical comedy in style, What We Do In The Shadows takes a hilariously blasé and an ironically mundane approach toward the day-to-day lives of three undead vampires living in a communal flat in central Wellington. The film, which treats its subjects not as the nightmarish stuff of ancient legend but rather as three overwhelmingly ordinary men who just happen to be vampires, revels in its own routine normality by presenting this absurd situation as the most conventional thing in the world. The nocturnal lifestyle is just an inconvenience worked into their strict living schedule, and the late-night hunt for victims is nothing more than a sophisticated wine-and-dine that just gets a little messy sometimes.

When you mix this hilarious premise with a sharp and witty screenplay from two of New Zealand’s finest screenwriters (Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement), the result is one of the funniest and most engaging comedy movies of the past decade. There isn’t a single joke that misses, but rather they all hit their mark with a confidence and assuredness that’s impossible not to admire – the film knows exactly where its strengths lie, and it bathes in them for as long as possible. The three lead performances from Waititi, Clement and Jonathan Brugh complement the film’s distinctly dry tone perfectly, with all three characters bouncing off each other perfectly and allowing for plenty of laugh-out-loud interactions between the trio – even in the simplest and most mundane of conversations.

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What We Do In The Shadows (2014) (Unison Films)

One of the most frequently-posed complaints about What We Do In The Shadows is that there’s no real story, or that the film is nothing more than a collection of funny moments that don’t all tie together effectively. But in reality, it’s this bold storytelling that makes the film stand out from the crowd and keep the audience engaged for the entire runtime. There are subplots that run through the film (including a hilariously childish rivalry between the vampires and a local gang of werewolves), but the overwhelming majority of scenes just display the daily life of a vampire in New Zealand, contributing to this amusingly uneventful tone that makes the film so distinct. A distinct, structured plot would simply take away from this, destroying the illusion of spontaneity that the film so effectively contrives.

Whilst What We Do In The Shadows might not be Taika Waititi’s most prestigious or technically-impressive film to date (though a series of wire-gags and camera tricks certainly make it a contender), it’s undeniably his funniest and most underrated. The quality and consistency of the jokes is one thing, but the way he and Jemaine Clement manage to craft such a distinct and unconventional representation of the undead community is really something else altogether. With exceptional performances, hilarious writing, and a relentless originality that very few films have managed to replicate, What We Do In The Shadows deserves its crowning spot as one of the highest-quality and most entertaining comedies there’s ever been.

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What We Do In The Shadows (2014) is now available to watch on digital and VOD.

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