Lost Boys’ Club

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Finally caught up with WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, which Fiona loved and I liked. The above arresting image — “He can never get the faces right” — was my favourite bit.

It’s a house-share comedy in which the main characters are all vampires. It’s also a mockumentary. Neither concept sounds that fresh or amazing, but what puts it over is the care lavished on world-building — drawings ideas from every major vampire film of the past few decades, especially the po-faced but silly ones like INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, the movie sets up the principles by which its Kiwi bloodsuckers operate, and manages to make them all pretty funny.

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I did feel that the mockumentary angle, though essential for the film’s storytelling (the various vamp’s interviews are all very amusing, and supply the backstory cheaply, while the handheld camera style allows for lively visuals at low cost), was underexplored. We never meet the documentarists, and we don’t fully understand why the vampires would cooperate in a venture which must eventually blow their serial murder lifestyle sky-high (though people do cooperate in docs when they really shouldn’t — but I think that’s a feature of modern society and our crazy urge for fame, which these characters, all survivors from previous centuries, shouldn’t be aware of let alone prone to). A title at the beginning tells us that the camera crew all wore crucifixes, but later on their lives are endangered… but we still don’t get to meet them. Also, they’re passively cooperating in a bunch of murders, and unlike in MAN BITES DOG the film doesn’t deal with their culpability (how can it? — they’re literally not in the frame).

But ignoring all that, as the film wants us to, it’s amusing and very nicely acted. The only other issue is what a boys’ club it is, with the only major female character being Jackie Van Beek as the Renfield type “servant” of one of the undead (co-director Taika Waititi). Only one female vampire plays a limited role, and the rest of the women are all victims. Given that there are recognized archetypes for female vampires, it seems a shame the filmmakers didn’t provide a role for one. Though there is a strong history of pathetic male characters stuck together in sitcom (and this is very much a sitcom, with just the minimal amount of forward momentum to contrive a movie plot), there seems to reason in this story world for women to be so absent.

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At Edinburgh this year I saw Waititi’s latest, HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE, which artfully reconfigures the dynamic of BAD SANTA into a New Zealand wilderness bonding dramedy (new sub-sub genre) — it has excellent perfs, led by Sam Neill, and proves that Waititi is gifted with more visual style than WWDITS’ deliberately limited palette could display. But again, the women are a bit lacking — one very nice character has to exit early for plot reasons, while the chief villainess, a child welfare worker (and yes, I’m suspicious of movies which cast child welfare workers as villains, too) could really have done with a character arc.

But he’s someone to watch. But, on the other hand, he’s doing THOR, next. I hope he limits himself to one superhero movie.

Also watched: THE CONJURING II. James Wan is also a talent to watch. He’s doing AQUAMAN next. Sigh.

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11 Responses to “Lost Boys’ Club”

  1. revelator60 Says:

    I still haven’t forgiven James Wan for the first Saw movie. He definitely misused his talent on that one.

  2. That was a weird mix of capable and inept and nasty — admittedly, he was VERY young. He’s improved, especially in his handling of actors, and his camera storytelling is now really magnificent. But the stories aren’t advancing at the same rate…

  3. I remember watching this last Halloween with my fiance and thought it was brilliant.

    I bet there is still a great need for those paper towels.

  4. Jackie’s master is Deacon played by Jonny (or Jonathan) Brugh, not Viago (Taika Waititi). I loved the movie, but yes, it is a bit ‘blokey’, which doesn’t distract from it’s general awesomeness. I think you’re nit-picking Crayons. Change of subject – I firmly believe that Wan is capable of producing a masterpiece. When he pulls back from the ‘supernatural holocaust’ stuff and goes simple and restrained, he’s masterful and a genius at misdirection. He’s the only horror director capable of making me scream on a regular basis, which drives me up the wall, because I thought I knew every trick in the cinematic book, but the swine keeps blind-siding me. *shakes fist at James Wan* Only problem is, I don’t think he wants to make a masterpiece. (This is Fiona, your wife and sometimes co-writer btw)

  5. I mean he’s the only ‘current’ horror director capable of making me scream on a regular basis. In The Conjuring 2 he got me using EXACTLY the same technique he’d used in Insidious. SPOILER ALERT……………………………………………………………………………………………………. A conversation scene in bright daylight that lulls you into a false sense of security. Extra points for including The Goodies and Margaret Thatcher – little bit of politics there Wan? AND I WAS FURIOUS. Absolutely furious. He’d done it to me again!

  6. You’re right about the servant situation, and everything else. Wan would maybe like to make a masterpiece, but he just hasn’t had the scripts, and he must know in his heart that Aquaman won’t be it. I mean… Aquaman?

  7. I’m tired, REALLY tired of superhero movies/tv series (with the exception of Jessica Jones), but the fact is neither of us knows how Thor or Aquaman will turn out, so cool your heels Crayons.

  8. This is a film I wanted to like, and up to a point I did like it as an amiable piece of fluff. But still, it was a missed opportunity. You’re right in saying that the mockumentary aspect was underexplored; I’d go further and say that it was an outright handicap. Since the success of The Office (great show), too many film and TV comedies have used that format to no great end other than to churn out a lazy imitation, in which the low-key style is used as cover for the poverty of the humour. I wouldn’t say that What We Do in the Shadows is a lazy film, exactly, but it definitely seemed under-powered to me. One of the things I missed was a variety of tone: the comedy is very samey from beginning to end, there’s little in the way of horror or tragedy (though there are hints of the latter in the character played by Waititi). The whole thing felt constrained by the format.

  9. Though I was surprisingly concerned for the fate of Stu, I agree there wasn’t much variety to the emotion or comedy.

    Mockumentary can throw up all sorts of problems: see the pilot for Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is still very good, but hampered by the form: characters do things they would never do on camera. So the series cracked this problem by shooting and cuttting in the same loose way, but not making it explicitly a doc. Works fine.

  10. I think there is emotion in WWDITS. It’s an oddly sweet film. There’s Viago and his unrequited love. The concern for Stu of course. Even Nick is sympathetic when he discovers that being a vampire isn’t that great. “Don’t believe the hype!” And there is a bond of friendship that holds them together. They’re even looking after the extremely aged vampire, Petyr, who lives in the basement and looks like Nosferatu. “I brought you a chicken.” Vladilslav has been so stung by a romantic failure that he calls his ex ‘The Beast’, gets upset, doesn’t eat properly and makes himself ill.

  11. In a way, one of the film’s cleverest tricks is to get away with appearing to have almost no forward momentum, simply by stating at the start that there’s going to be a big vampire party. Anticipation of that is, at times, almost the only driving force. And along the way the can dawdle and be entertaining in charmingly irrelevant ways.

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