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‘What We Do in the Shadows’ Review

What We Do in the Shadows
Unison Films/Funny or Die

Those familiar with Jemaine Clement from his work on HBO’s ‘Flight of the Conchords’ should be plenty excited for ‘What We Do in the Shadows,’ the new film he co-directed and co-wrote with Taika Waititi, who also worked with Clement on the indie film ‘Eagle vs. Shark.’ The pair reunite for this new venture, a faux documentary in the vein of the hilarious work of Christopher Guest — but the eccentric group at the heart of this film is something a bit different: immortal vampires who happen to be flatmates, just trying to sort out normal life stuff while also dealing with being supernatural.

‘What We Do in the Shadows’ doesn’t yet have distribution stateside, but that should be rectified pretty quickly. The film, the product of Clement and Waititi’s brilliantly clever collaborative minds, is an insanely funny mock-doc that never skips a beat.

Waititi stars Viago, a dandy sort of vampire fond of ruffled shirts and insistent that his other flatmates contribute to chores, and Clement plays Vladislav, the dark, sexual deviant type who’s fond of orgies but is awfully sensitive about an old enemy dubbed “The Beast” that defeated him many times. Together they live with Deacon (Jonathan Pugh), the edgy one who also enjoys knitting, and Petyr, the super ancient one who resembles Nosferatu — he’s like the weird old grandpa that lives in the basement and who no one wants to bother.

The documentary crew follow the guys around as they prepare for an annual festive gathering of supernatural types, but the real fun is in watching them deal with everyday problems. They have no reflections, so they have to come up with creative ways to gauge how they look before they go out for a night on the town; then there’s the trouble of feeding, which can get pretty messy; and don’t forget Viago’s neurotic chore wheel, which determines each flatmate’s responsibilities for the week.

‘What We Do in the Shadows,’ should it see release in 2014, will be one of the most interesting and original films of the year, and could very well be the best comedy. Clement and Waititi’s script is so sharp and immensely well paced that it would be monumentally impressive to discover that the guys did any improvisation at all. As there’s the element of the supernatural, there are indeed some special effects, which are executed quite well, particularly the moments in which characters transform into animals — there are some rather great gags involving bats, and one particularly memorable moment involving a cat. There’s even a subplot involving a group of werewolves, led by former ‘Flight of the Conchords’ co-star Rhys Darby.

Aside from the basic situational humor, there is an actual plot involving a newly minted and naive vampire who causes quite a bit of friction and conflict for the group. It becomes increasingly difficult not to compare ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ to the work of Christopher Guest, but ‘Shadows’ sets itself apart with gorgeous cinematography, filmed like the satire of a spooky music video, poking a bit of fun at goth and vampire-obsessed culture — a true feat given that we’re currently in a state of vampire fatigue, thanks to the ‘Twilight’ phenomenon, but ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ manages to mine loads of fresh humor and perspective from such an old, dried-up well.

Comedy feels so consistently dominated by the same groups of filmmakers and their cliques right now, from Judd Apatow and his gang to Adam Sandler and his crew, that it’s always exciting to see something new, subversive and different, especially when it works. ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ totally nails it from beginning to end with not a single tedious or wasted moment.

Rating Meter 9

‘What We Do In the Shadows’ screened at the 2014 SXSW Film Festival.

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