Wednesday, October 05, 2016
What We Do in the Shadows
Written directed and starring Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement, What We Do in the Shadows is a film that explores the lives of vampires living in the suburbs of Wellington, New Zealand as it’s told in a documentary-like style. The film is a horror-comedy that follows the lives of vampires adjusting to their surroundings as well as deal with the downside of modern civilization. Also starring Rhys Darby, Jonathan Burgh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, and Stu Rutherford. What We Do in the Shadows is a witty and stylish film from Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement.
Told in the span of nearly a year just before a prestigious masquerade ball that happens every few years, the film is about a documentary film crew who make a film for the New Zealand government about vampires who are living in Wellington. There, they capture the lives of four of these vampires as well as a human servant who would bring in a couple of people for the vampires to feed on where one of them becomes a new vampire and brings a human friend to introduce them to the modern world. The film is told in this documentary style where these vampires cope with their life but also some of the drawbacks of being a vampire as well as the modern world which they’re baffled by. The screenplay by Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement play into this strange encounter with the modern world where vampires, zombies, witches, and werewolves live among humanity but are trying to maintain some control.
Yet, there is still some tension between vampires and werewolves as they all try to not fight while the vampires try to show their newest friend what it is like to be a vampire. Especially as the newest guy in Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) deals with the guys he is living with as its leader Viago (Taika Waititi) is quite uptight and likes to keep things clean. The other three in the former tyrant Vladislav (Jermaine Clement) who is still reeling from a battle he lost many years ago, the rebellious Deacon (Jonathan Burgh) who tries to be cool as he doesn’t like Nick, and the reclusive Petyr (Ben Fransham) who is 8,000 years old and is the one that turned Nick into a vampire. They all live in the night as Viago often checks to see if it’s nighttime while the tenants, minus Petyr, would have meetings while they’re often aided by Deacon’s human servant Jackie (Jackie van Beek) and later Nick’s friend Stu (Stu Rutherford) who would introduce the other vampires to the Internet and such.
The film’s direction by Waititi and Clement definitely plays up that idea of the documentary yet the documentary crew is never shown. Shot like a documentary with its usage of close-ups and medium shots to maintain that air of intimacy. The film does play up that idea that everything is being filmed including moments where the vampires do whatever to get some blood as there are moments of gore and lots of blood. However, they’re played for laughs where a scene involving Viago eating a victim ends up bad in a comical manner as his whole room becomes a mess. There are some wide shots as the film is shot on location in Wellington which is definitely the most unlikely place for a community of vampires, werewolves, zombies, and witches would live in but it has that mixture of the modern world with some elements of the old world. There also moments where the human characters who help the vampires are also profiled not just as ordinary people but those with quirks while the scene where the local police come into the vampires’ home is very funny as there is that sense of what will happen or what won’t happen. The climax at this masquerade ball doesn’t just play into the social world of the creatures but also in the chaos of what happens when humans are there as well as loyalties start to emerge for these men. Overall, Waititi and Clement create a thrilling yet hilarious film about vampires living in the 21st Century.
Cinematographers Richard Bluck and D.J. Stipsen do excellent work with the look of the many scenes set at night to play into the nightlife of Wellington with its clubs and such as well as a few scenes set in the day to play into the lives of the human servants. Editors Tom Eagles, Yana Gorskaya, and Jonathan Woodford-Robinson do amazing work with the editing as it‘s largely straightforward with some stylish montages as well as some jump-cuts to play into the humor. Production designer Ra Vincent does fantastic work with the look of the house that the vampires live in as well as the rooms of each character to display their personalities. Costume designer Amanda Neale does nice work with the costumes with the clothing style of the vampires where Viago and Vladislav display a look of 18th/19th century clothing while Nick’s clothes are more based on hipster trends.
Makeup/hair designer Dannelle Satherly, along with special effects makeup designers Don Brooker and Roger Murray, does brilliant work with the look of the vampires in their near-human like state as well as the look of Petyr who serve as a homage to the film Nosferatu. Visual effects supervisors Stan Alley and Darwin Go do terrific work with the visual effects that include scenes of the vampires floating or flying around in the air as well as moments where they turn into bats. Sound editor Simon Riley does superb work with the sound in the way some of the noises in the other rooms are heard as well as some sound effects to play in the way the vampire hisses sound. The film’s music by Plan 9 is extraordinary for its 18th/19th century string music filled with all sorts of string instruments while the soundtrack also include a mixture of classical and contemporary music to play into the places the characters venture to.
The casting by Tina Cleary and Todd Resnick is wonderful as it feature some notables small roles from Karen O’Leary and Mike Minogue as a couple of police officers who would meet the vampires during a search, Elena Stejko as a former lover of Vladislav, Ethel Robinson as an old flame of Viago, and Ben Fransham as the very silent and reclusive vampire Petyr who likes to be alone. Rhys Darby is terrific as Anton who is the head of a local werewolf pack that tries to maintain some order and peace despite his own issues with the vampires. Jackie Van Beek is fantastic as Jackie as Deacon’s servant who helps do some of the daytime chores as well as get whoever for the vampires to feed on in the hopes that she becomes a vampire. Stu Rutherford is superb as Nick’s friend Stu as a software computer analyst who befriends the vampires as he helps introduce them to modern technology as well as allow them to see the sun for the very first time in many years through YouTube.
Cori Gonzalez-Macuer is excellent as Nick as a newly-formed vampire who helps the other vampires get in touch with the modern world while dealing with the drawbacks in being a vampire. Jonathan Brugh is brilliant as Deacon as a rebellious vampire who doesn’t like Nick very much as he tries to maintain his rebellious persona as well as do erotic dances of the past to entertain his friends. Jermaine Clement is amazing as Vladislav as a vampire who has a love of torture and sex with women while dealing with the great defeat that still haunts him as he still hopes to regain some vigor. Finally, there’s Taika Waititi in an incredible performance as Viago as the head vampire who is kind of a neat freak as well as lament over a former flame whom he still sees in her old age while trying to teach Nick the ideas in being a vampire.
What We Do in the Shadows is a remarkable film from Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement. Featuring a great cast, a witty premise, dazzling visuals, and a fun soundtrack, it’s a film that play into the many ideas of what it’s like being a vampire in the 21st Century. Even as it is played for laughs as well as provide some unique commentary about the downside of the modern world. In the end, What We Do in the Shadows is a sensational film from Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement.
Taika Waititi Films: Two Cars, One Night - Eagle vs. Shark - Boy (2010 film) - Hunt for the Wilderpeople - Thor: Ragnarok - (The Auteurs #64: Taika Waititi)
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