Saturday, 27 December 2014

What We Do in the Shadows (NZ, 2014)

When you think of New Zealand there are certain things that spring to mind, unfortunately most of those things now tend revolve around Hobbits. Despite New Zealand being used as the backdrop for Tolkien's fantasy world its still not really the first place you'd associate with vampires, especially vampires living in the suburbs of Wellington. So it was admittedly  kinda surprising to see a vampire movie emerge from the island of Kiwis, but not just a vampire movie...a vampire comedy mockumentary.

Put basically this film takes the popular reality TV concept and blends it with the popular slightly romantic vision of vampires (Anne Rice type vampires) whilst also adding other ghouls and mythical creatures in a bare bones hyperbole of blood. A camera crew stays in a decrepit house with four vampires and follows their daily routines trying to exist in the present day. The film crew have been given special permission to film these ancient creatures of the night as they prepare for a special event, a special ball...the crew were also given assurance they wouldn't be eaten.

The four vampires are a mixed bunch from the distant pages of time. Viago (379 years old) is the main vampire who talks to us most of the time, he was an 18th century dandy, a wealthy man who is prim proper and pedantic and likes the house clean and tidy (the Lestat de Lioncourt of the bunch). Deacon is the bad boy of the group...or so he likes to think (183 years old). He's the young rebellious rock n roll leather pant wearing vampire who thinks he's hot stuff, the irony being he clearly isn't.

'If you were a Nazi after the war...uh-uh'
'If you were a vampire'...*shakes head*
'If you were a Nazi vampire! no way!! I was outta there!'

Vladislav is the second eldest vampire (862 years old) who grew up during the medieval ages and was a tyrant. He's the most dated and out of touch vampire, he is the sexual deviant of the bunch, the ladies man. His appearance is more in line with the traditional romantic vampiric appearance (the Gary Oldman/Coppola vampire of the bunch). Then lastly there is Petyr who is the eldest vampire at 8000 years of age. This guy is obviously a homage to the Count Orlok character in the F.W. Murnau film 'Nosferatu'. He doesn't say anything but merely nods or hisses and is virtually more animalistic or creature-like than the others.

So apart from the usual vampire-esque things you'd expect to see what is different about this movie? Well for one its all filmed with hand held cameras because its a reality show, not exactly a new idea but it makes the whole film look very realistic in terms of a reality show that is. They have clearly gone out and about in Wellington and filmed on the fly with real unknowing people which makes things more intriguing and fun. In fact its hard to tell at times if the people we see are in the movie or simply real folk unaware they are being filmed.

Some of the main things that really stand out are the extremely humorous little chats the vamps have with the cam crew (ala Big Brother) as they bicker about each other and whine about life in general. It is absolutely hilarious to watch these guys moan and take the piss out of traditional vampire lore turning it into annoying everyday situations. A really clever aspect is the fact vampires don't cast a how do they know what they look like? This is clever simply because you've probably never even thought about that. Vampires tend to look very glamorous in certain movies yet how do they know they look glamorous, they might look like shit. So we are presented with a brilliantly funny sequence where these vamps must draw each other in certain attire and make dummies to put the clothes on, so they have an idea of how they will look when they cruise the town at night.

'I think we drink virgin blood sounds cool'
'I think of it like this...if you're going to eat a would just enjoy it more if you knew no one had fucked it'

Then there is the issue of how to kill and drain a victim without making a mess on the carpet and furniture. How do they get all their clothes cleaned, washing up all the blood stained cutlery and dishes, how to find victims/virgins, keeping their vampire skills honed, general entertainment, coping with modern technology, flying through windows, trying to hypnotise victims when they're glued to the TV or a laptop and getting to grips with a new vampire and his human friend. The answer to many of these things being a female human slave who acts like a personal secretary with a shopping list of victims which is a fantastic twist.

You wouldn't think a film like this would have many special effects and if they did they'd be crappy, but you'd be wrong. OK there aren't lots of effects everywhere, they are sparse, but what we do see is cleverly done and highly effective in a tacky kind of way. We see the vamps flying around and hovering, Viago rises from his bed in that classic vertical manner, the guys change into bats, there are of course classic practical blood effects and most impressively we see the guys able to walk (and fight) up the walls and across the ceiling. One scene in particular shows two of the guys fighting up the walls and across the ceiling in one shot and it really does look fab (a rotating set I'm guessing). I must also add that the sets are really atmospheric too, again clearly basic but they work so well.

The only thing I didn't quite like about this movie was the adding of other creatures of the night such as werewolves and zombies especially. I guess the werewolves I can accept but the way they are presented and acted out by the cast just doesn't quite work as well I think. The vampires have a clear distinction between themselves, you can send up different variations of vampires and there is so much you can do. With the werewolves its not really the same, one werewolf doesn't really differ from another, the jokes tend to be childish toilet/animal gags and they don't have any kind of distinctive look, they just look like regular boring humans. Of course once they turn things get a bit more exciting but then you lose the comedy aspect and it obviously becomes more of a genuine horror which you don't really want here. As for other monsters such as zombies that was a step too far for me, that felt like they were pushing it too much.

I loved the cast in this film I really did, each of the three main vampires are really well portrayed and highly amusing throughout. In fact I can't even say which vampire was my favourite because they were all tops. Each actor had some very funny dialog and they are all gifted with amusing rubbery faces which helps. I won't lie and say its a perfect film that is full of laugh out loud moments from start to finish...but its damn close. Considering this came out of nowhere, the cast is unknown (to me), its a New Zealand made film (no disrespect) and the budget appears to be small...its a fine comedy that deserves much kudos. Its like...'Spinal Tap' but with vampires.

'When you get four vampires in a flat obviously there's going to be a lot of tension, there's tension in any flatting situation'