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.
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.
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.