Review: What We Do In The Shadows [2014]

a (long-awaited) review by the Crow.

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It’s been just shy of a year since I started writing this review, but I never got past the “opening thoughts” section (I’ve rewritten the section for the purposes of this review). With us heading off to co-director Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok soon, I decided it’d be best to quickly wrap my thoughts about this movie up before heading into the latest movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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OPENING THOUGHTS

I had no idea about this movie up until September last year (2016). Our former crew-member the Raven was visiting me at the time, and we were working on the first few posts for The Corvid Review when she brought this movie up. It was a must-watch, she said, and tried to sell me on the premise. But — I protested — it was about vampires.

Now, I have little love lost for vampire movies. While I know a fair bit about the popular myths and the origins of the idea from across the globe, and was once even threatened with being bitten by someone who “might be” a vampire, I hate how the creatures are usually portrayed in cinema.

Movies involving vampires are usually terrible. Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu The Vampyre might’ve made my Top 10 Horror Movies list, but that’s a huge exception. Vampires have been done wrong by, by and large.

What I’d much prefer is a movie that cuts right to the heart of the myth: the one that stems from the legend of Vlad III and the subsequent connections made to vampirism in relation to him. But it seems no one’s thought of that so far; or if they have, there’s no money seen in it.

So, needless to say, I was apprehensive about sitting down for this one. But the Raven was adamant that it was one of the best things she’d watched in a long time. So, I decided to throw caution to the wind and give it a shot.

And what did I think? Well, let me tell you:


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WHAT STORIES DO WE TELL IN THE SHADOWS?

WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS

What We Do in the Shadows is presented in the style of a documentary. We look through the camera as a film crew spends a few months with a house where vampires live. We meet Deacon (Jonathan Brugh; the 183 year-old ‘babyface’ of the gang), Viago (co-director Taika Waititi; 379 years old), Vladislav (co-director Jermaine Clement; 862 years old), and Petyr (Ben Fransham; the older house-mate, clocking in at ~8,000 years old).

Deacon, Viago, and Vladislav spend their nights out and about, blending in with the crowds on the streets, living life and looking for people to feed on. They have troubles adjusting to every day (or in this case: night) life, and each come with their own little personal colours. Deacon — a former Nazi-Vampire soldier — is obsessed with coming off as ‘cool’; Viago is pining for his one true love, the 96-year-old Katherine (Ethel Robinson); Vladislav (a.k.a. “Vlad the Poker”) is usually off spinning tales about the old days, when he used to be a powerful medieval evil Lord and used to battle the vile creature known only as “the Beast”. Petyr never joins them, what with being 8,000 years ago. But he’s still a friend, and also the one who turned Deacon.

We follow them as they argue over the house chores in their “flatting” situation, muck about in the house playing games (who doesn’t like playing William Tell in their house, after all?), and try on various clothes for their nightly escapades.

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Over time, we meet Jackie, Deacon’s familiar. She brings her ex-Nick and another former friend to the vampire’s home for a “dinner party”, and that’s where the story shifts into first gear. Petyr is the one who eventually grabs Nick, following a chase through the vampires’ house, and he joins the fold soon after.

We see that Nick — the new youngest member of the group — go through issues with his vampirism, and suffer from what I can only describe as ‘little brat’ syndrome. His transformation and exploration of his abilities is rather well-done, and apart from one scene involving CGI, the effects used for the vampires seem mostly practical.

That’s one of the shining feathers in this movie’s cap: apart from that one scene, everything else is handled beautifully. The direction here is on-point.

In the first few months in which Nick tries to bond with our four initial vampires, his friend Stu also becomes a part of our bunch of protagonists, as their only other human friend. Stu introduces the group to the marvels of modern day technology and overall seems at home with his new friends. And things only get weirder from there.

What We Do in the Shadows is a quaint, effective comedy that doesn’t for an instant drop its horror-movie roots. It plays with cliches and iconic vampire imagery better than any other modern-day vampire movie does, I’d wager (not that I’ll ever watch Twilight or its ilk — and there is an apt name-drop or two of said series in this movie).

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The movie also brings with it a pretty sizeable collection of character moments, which is rather surprising for a movie of this kind. The movie doesn’t linger on them too long to affect the viewers mood, the pacing is good enough to keep the emotional moments to themselves, the comedic moments to themselves, while keeping the viewers’ eyes on the screen.

There are some funny one-liners on display, here, as well. The movie carries the charm of comedy that Hollywood regularly fails to present on the big screen. Little quips like “fatal sunlight accident!” wouldn’t usually work, but in this movie, it all works together.

There is a tiny twist in the movie. Whilst watching it with the Raven, I ended up seeing it coming. Whether that was just me putting the dots together (it’s not much of a mystery, to be fair), or her making too big a deal out of it escapes me, but it’s worth the wait.

This isn’t the kind of movie to make one keel over with laughter (and if it did so, it’d really be shooting itself in the foot), but it’s just… nice. Just as it is. I’d go as far as to say this is one of my favourite comedy movies of all time. Whether or not it makes any Top 10s I do in the future is beyond me, but it’s certainly going to be in consideration.

There isn’t much of a “central story” here, as much as it is what it says on the cover: we’re just watching a year in the lives of vampires as they flatshare together in Wellington. We follow their lives, their loves, their losses, and their everyday problems. And in the format it’s presented in: it’s brilliant.


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CLOSING THOUGHTS

This is by far one of my favourite movies that I watched last year. It’s mad fun, and carries a sense of snarky self-awareness that makes it all the more hilarious. All-in-all, What We Do In The Shadows is a masterpiece among the ranks of mockumentary film-making. It’s funny, it’s executed well, and it displays a high level of production quality. The effects are very well handled, and each of the actors plays their character to a tee. Wonderful stuff.

What We Do in the Shadows comes highly recommended by both myself, and our former crew-member the Raven, and I’ll update the final score when the Azure-Winged Magpie gets around to watching the movie.

And before I leave you, just as a side note: it seems like horror-month’s really been draining the Azure-Winged Magpie. We’re going to see what we can whip up by the end of the month between us, but I doubt we’ll hit all four of our announced targets. My own next post is meant to be the final Star Trek: Discovery episode of the month, but I’ll see if I can gather myself together to write a horror review in the meantime.

— Crow out


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FINAL RATINGS

THE CROW: 7/10


Poster:

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8 thoughts on “Review: What We Do In The Shadows [2014]”

  1. This was a pleasant surprise to me too. I was afraid it would keep mining the same dumb jokes over and over, but it did a decent job as both a horror movie and mockumentary. And you’re right about its quotability – my friends and I have been asking each other “How do you like . . . your worms!?” for almost a week now.

    Liked by 1 person

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