'What We Do in the Shadows' is amusing but not quite laugh out loud funny
PHOTO BY UNISON FILMS AND FUNNY OR DIE
WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS
Where is it playing?: The Palm Theatre of San Luis Obispo
What's it rated?: NR
What's it worth?: $5.00
What's it worth?: $3.00
Housemates Viago (Taika Waititi), Deacon (Jonny Brugh), and Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) are three vampires who are trying to get by in modern society; from paying rent and doing housework to trying to get invited into nightclubs, they’re just like anyone else—except they’re immortal and must feast on human blood. When their 8,000-year-old roommate Petyr (Ben Fransham) turns 20-something human hipster Nick (Cori Gonzalez Macuer) into a vampire, the guys must guide him through his newfound eternal life. In return, they are forced to learn a thing or two about modern society, fashion, technology, and the Internet. But it’s the introduction of Nick’s human friend Stu (Stu Rutherford) that really changes the vampires’ lives and attitudes toward the world around them. When Stu’s life is threatened, the vampires discover that humans are worth fighting for, and that even though a heart may be cold and dead, it can still have feelings. The film also stars Rhys Darby as Anton and Jackie Van Beek as Jackie. (86 min.)
Glen: As a big fan of the TV show Flight of the Conchords, whose creators were also behind this New Zealand-made horror-comedy mockumentary, I had high hopes for this film whose posters claimed that one critic after another had hailed it “hilarious.” Instead, this charming but slight film is more “mildly amusing.” I’m guessing that won’t be quoted on the back of the DVD packaging. The film’s whole shtick is that, hey, vampires are just like us—fallible, insecure, and troubled by the same sort of petty problems. Deacon isn’t doing his job from the chore wheel. Vladislav is losing his virility and ability to charm others. Viago is just trying to keep the peace between the flatmates. The banality of it all is supposed to do all the heavy comedic lifting, but it’s basically an extended one-note joke. Unlike, say, Shaun of the Dead, or even Dark Shadows—two similar comedies with plenty of opportunities for laughs—What We Do in the Shadows is the premise for a funny skit, but even at only 86 minutes, it goes on too long. I guess that’s what immorality feels like: Nothing ends soon enough.
Anna: There were definitely a lot of chuckles in What We Do in the Shadows, with that same low-key cleverness that made Flight of the Conchords so great. Unfortunately, I suspect that type of humor works better in television format; trying to pull it off for a full-length film proves to be tricky. Still, it does give us a chance to spend more time with the characters that show that life as a vampire isn’t easy, even when you’ve had hundreds of years to try to get it right. If the guys want to go out on the town, they must first parade around each other in different outfits, as they have no reflection and can’t check a mirror to make sure their fashion choices are on point. (They aren’t, by the way; these guys look ridiculous.) You have to keep your status as a vampire on the down-low, as there may be vampire hunters who also like to frequent a nightclub. You have to host dinner parties as a guise to lure in your next victim. It’s tricky being a vampire, but these guys are doing the best they can. It was an amusing movie, but hilarious? Nah.
Glen: The film’s attempt at an emotional core is Stu, the human friend of newly turned vampire Nick. Stu’s an accountant whose social life is so mind-numbingly boring he’d rather hang out with a bunch of vampires than try to find a new friend who isn’t a bloodsucker. There’s only so long that Stu’s dimwittedness retains its charm, however, and it’s never entirely clear why the older vampires become emotionally attached to him or bother protecting him. Then the old trope of vampires against werewolves is also trotted out. Anton (Rhys Darby) leads the wolf pack, which is little more than a group of sycophants. One joke that goes on too long is how they’re required to laugh at his jokes because he’s the alpha. I guess one good thing about this film is it’s more amusing than the Twilight series. Small concession, right? Eventually, the vampire coven and the werewolf clan have a showdown and then a reconciliation, and finally the film ends. In more good news, it didn’t seem like the filmmakers were trying to tee up a sequel, which also makes it better than Twilight.
Anna: We also hear Viago’s story of long lost love. He followed Katherine to New Zealand in a rather unusual way, by having his coffin sent by mail with him inside of it. Due to an unfortunate error, his package was misrouted and by the time he got to New Zealand, Katherine was married to someone else. Poor, unlucky Viago can’t even wear the silver locket she gave him. There are cliques within the group, and a serious learning curve for new guy Nick. We see them experience all the typical ups and downs all roommates go through, but with that undead twist. It’s silly and quirky, but honestly, it should have been a skit instead of a full-length film.
Split Screen is written by Sun contributor and New Times Staff Writer Glen Starkey and his wife, Anna. Comment at email@example.com.