Overview: A new addition to their brood shakes things up for four vampire flatmates. Madman Entertainment; 2015; 85 Minutes
A Real Funny Fake Film Pretending to Be Real (About Fake Things): I could be wrong, but I have always felt that the most challenging element of comedic mockumentaries has to be the restriction that feigned real-life dialogue places upon the timing. To properly sell the chosen narrative format, these types of films must forego standard comedic rhythms and beats and earn their laughs against a more precise, hurried, organic tempo. In a way, comedic mockumentaries are the jazz to standard comedy’s rock n’ roll. Not everyone has a taste for it and even fewer have the skill to create it. That’s why the rare successful iterations of this format (the best work of Christopher Guest, and to a lesser degree The Office and Parks & Recreation) rely upon ensemble casts that have rare comedic skill and even rarer comedic chemistry. These are the same terms by which What We Do in the Shadows succeeds greatly.
As the four central vampires navigating the modern life of New Zealand, Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, and Ben Fransham are so hilarious that it becomes difficult to react with the laughter the film deserves and still catch all of the jokes. An incredible Pac-Man gag is thrown haphazardly into a montage sequence. In just three scenes, Clement’s former Flight of the Concords partner Rhys Darby, as an amusingly principled leader of a werewolf pack, provides enough comedy to earn the movie a favorable review all on his own. But the movie offers enough uproarious home-runs that Darby’s contributions are just dressing (the scene in which Viago hits a main artery and the scene in which the friends draw pictures of one another to accommodate the uselessness of mirrors are two that spring to mind). This movie recklessly throws away jokes so perfect that other films would have positioned them as highlights in the trailer spots.
A Cold, Dead, Good Heart: The writing and directing pair of Jemaine Clements and Taika Waititi earns a second comparison to the Christopher Guest classics through their even, fair treatment of their subject matter. What We Do in the Shadows is never snide in its observation of archaic folklore and it makes no attempt to satirize the currently played out supernatural film genre (honestly, we need more “Twilight sucks” jokes less than we need more Twilight rip-offs). The cultural familiarity with the supernatural topic is never twisted to allow the film to pass judgment, but rather, it is structured to support goodhearted, benevolent gags. This sort of unassuming, non-judgmental approach is all too rare in comedies of the current decade.
Overall: I don’t remember the last time I laughed this much during a movie. I’ve actually laughed more in recollection while writing this review than I have while watching any recent comedy. I can think of no better measurement than that.