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What We Do in the Shadows is bloody good fun

Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s “mockumentary” What We Do in the Shadows is the perfect antidote to the pretentiously somber soap suds of the Twilight series. This film sends up the trappings of vampire cinema with imagination and inspiration.

Clement and Waititi wrote and directed the film, an expansion of a short they had made years ago. They also star as Vladislav and Viago, a pair of bloodsuckers who share a house in modern-day Wellington, New Zealand, with fellow vampires Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) and Petyr (Ben Fransham). Vladislav, Viago and Deacon hail from different eras, dressing and behaving accordingly. Petyr, the oldest of the flatmates (by over 7,000 years), bears a striking resemblance to Max Schreck’s Nosferatu.

The film follows the bloodthirsty quartet, introducing each and depicting how they exist and have adapted (with varying degrees of success) to contemporary culture, how they procure new victims, deal with rival werewolf packs, prepare for the upcoming “Unholy Masquerade” party and go on about their daily … errr, nightly, lives.

From the film, we learn that though vampires cast no reflection in mirrors, they can be photographed. Indeed, there’s a very funny scene where they discover the joy of taking “selfies.” We also learn, according to Deacon, that “vampires don’t do dishes!” – which is why there’s a five-year stack of bloody dishes piled by the sink, much to fussy Viago’s disgust.

Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, a newcomer to movies, plays Nick, a newcomer to vampirism. He’s been bitten by Petyr and becomes the fifth flatmate. Despite repeated admonitions that he keep his true nature a secret, he can’t resist trying to pick up women in bars by claiming to be “the real guy from Twilight!” None of this might be in full accordance with vampire lore, but What We Do in the Shadows is so ingratiating that it hardly matters. The film also boasts its fair share of gory moments, thus upholding horror-film tradition.

Clement, Waititi, Brugh and Gonzalez-Macuer all get their moments to shine, both individually and collectively, but keep your eye on Fransham. His makeup is so good and his snarls so well-timed that he truly inspires shivers, yet notice too his subtle facial and eye movements when being lectured by one of the others. Fransham doesn’t say much. He doesn’t have to.

That the film was supported by the actual New Zealand Documentary Board only adds to its good vibes. What We Do in the Shadows is an inspired and imaginative mock documentary, and its success can only enhance the board’s international profile. !

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