I knew next to nothing about Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s What We Do In The Shadows before I arrived at the Stanley Film Fest, I didn’t even know they were involved in the movie. I actually had the vague sense, perhaps implied by the title, that the closing night film would be a somber, dour exercise. I was wrong.
Clement (who you know from “Flight Of The Conchords”) and Waititi had previously collaborated on the 2007 film Eagle vs. Shark, though even that precious indie isn’t an indicator of the surprisingly broad (in a good way) humor at work here. What We Do In The Shadows is often flat out hilarious. A mockumentary of modern vampire life, a la Spinal Tap, watching the film felt like a cult classic being born.
It seems like this kind of thing shouldn’t work. After all, our culture is so oversaturated with vampire lore at this point that adding to the pile seems like a dangerous exercise in audience fatigue. But it’s actually precisely this oversaturation that allows the film to thrive. The audience, inundated with vampire trope after trope for year after year, knows these details almost as well as they know the banality of life itself. The shorthand is already there. So when Shadows aims to skewer the mythology by rendering it banal, it’s instantly identifiable.
I’ll admit that the film almost lost me. After a funny opening 5 minutes, I began to wonder if this kind of humor, which seemed better suited to a sketch, could sustain a feature length movie (the audience laughing all around me suggests that my concerns were in the minority). But something magical happens at the 20 minute mark, and Shadows hits an impressive stride. The characters all have wants and dreams and there are surprises lurking underneath the standard archetypes established early on.
If it seems like I’m being vague, you’re right. There are so many classic lines and moments in this movie that I’m sure will be quoted for years to come that to describe them here would be a great disservice to the viewer. You don’t need examples proving that Shadows is hilarious. You just need to trust me and discover why for yourself.