What We Do In The Shadows **1/2 (out of five)
The biggest disappointment so far this year is What We Do In The Shadows, which is neither to say it’s terrible nor even bad. But my expectations were very high – and way too high, unfortunately (and rather bafflingly). Written and directed by Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) and Taika Waititi (Boy), I imagined this modest, 86 minute mockumentary couldn’t go wrong.
The essential problem is that vampires are a childish target, the stuff of jokes in Christmas Crackers (“What’s a vampire’s favourite song? Fangs for the memories!”) rather than smart satire. I imagined Waititi or Clement riffing on a vampire theme over a drink one night and deciding it would make a funny movie, then, six days into shooting, realising that it wasn’t working but having to push on regardless, perhaps thinking, “We should have perhaps made fun of something with a little more bite.” Doh!
The conceit is vampires as flatmates, and the conflicts are flatmate conflicts, but these guys haven’t had to be flatmates with anyone for awhile so even that side of things is generalised. It’s a little hard to watch grown men – especially Clement, a comedic acting legend thanks to Conchords – walking around hissing and flashing their fangs for (attempted) laughs. Watching them make dirty dishes jokes doesn’t somehow make the vampire schtick funnier.
At its heart, the film is really a comedy about New Zealand manhood and its associated perpetual adolescence, with our vamps heading into “Wellington Central”, befriending other clueless men and even getting into a bit of a chest-bump confrontation with a pack of werewolves led by Rhys Darby, who has been blessed with a comedian’s golden fleece: everything he says is funny. This isn’t really “about” vampires and werewolves – you can imagine these two groups as sports fans on a Friday night in town after the game – but that satire is barely mined (and could have been, far more richly). It’s almost as though it were made for kids, except that every now and then there is extremely bloody violence.
To make matters all the more disappointing, Clement has written himself a strait-laced, straight-jacketed role, allowing himself to display none of his comic chops. This error in judgement is, very unfortunately, indicative of the whole movie – it’s simply a misfire, a project that should have been left in the pub.