In the Land of Blood and Funny
Starring: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi
Review written by Robert D. Patrick
Vampires, again? When drawing from an empty, moss-encased well, you would expect your rusty bucket to hit the sludge at the bottom. We’ve had empirically attractive, virile blood suckers. Well quaffed, Victorian vampires. Apathetic, vinyl hoarding shapeshifters. Grotesquely moribund trucker vampires with Jeff Reboulet mustaches. Even Aaliyah played a vampire queen. Bram Stoker’s quill couldn’t have imagined the horrors that would befall his vein piercing creation. Yet, after the litany of tired cliches and clumsy retooling of the genre over the years, Jim Jarmusch inoculated the boorish vampire aesthetic with his sinewy and sweltering Only Lovers Left Alive. And now, only months later, comes What We Do in the Shadows, a film that playfully lampoons the fang-baring undead.
Jemaine Clement and fellow writer/actor Taika Waititi weave a brilliant cat’s cradle of gallows humor and bruised levity - blood-specked walls and irreverent observational absurdity are specials of the night. Four idiosyncratic vampires share a web swaddled lair in New Zealand. Their flat has more oil paintings than a Scooby Doo cartoon or a Thomas Kinkade gallery. Three of the roommates are contemporary entities, while Petyr, the elder statesman of the bunch, resembles F.W. Murnau’s Count Orlok. Though spinal columns are left in the house, like discarded pizza crust, the troupe of vampires still have cavalier discussions about whose turn it is to wash the dishes (in this case, ornate chalices and antique plates).
Clement plays Vladislov, the most carnal and baritone of the bunch. Waititi, on the other hand, plays a more affable hellion – he’s affixed, almost permanently, with a naive smile. Meanwhile, Jonathan Brugh plays Deacon, the most wily of the group. Petyr, the monochrome and emaciated vampire, could literally be played by Max Schreck for all we know. The group, being hundreds of years old, aren’t acclimated to today’s technology, which is part of the set-up. But the real laughter comes from vampire lore being interlocked with menial house chores. There is an eye for dry wit in the most cavalier of circumstances. The hammed up accents, ranging from tinny Eastern European to old Hollywood Transylvanian put the proceedings over the top in the best way possible. Clement and Waititi’s gore inundated opus is spiked with enough cultural nods to keep a consistent pulse throughout the film.
Though a deft comedy, there is enough slinking bodies and jutting blood to appease horror fans. What We Do in the Shadows – now playing at Landmark’s Hillcrest Cinemas – is clever departure from a genre that has gotten too cool for its own good.