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What We Do in the Shadows

(2015) *** 1/2 Unrated
86 min. Paladin Pictures. Directors: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement. Cast: Jonathan Brugh, Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathon Brugh.

/content/films/4774/1.jpgCross Bram Stoker's Dracula with the Britcom The Office, and you get What We Do in the Shadows, a brilliantly funny new vampire-themed mockumentary out of New Zealand. Written and directed by old pals Taika Waititi (Eagle vs Shark, Boy) and Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords), Shadows taps a fresh vein of humor to transfuse the horrific and the mundane.

Vampires Viago (Waititi), Vladislav (Clement), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), and Petyr (Ben Fransham) share a flat in the suburbs, and like any roomies, they have their fights, especially over the chore wheel. Next to Petyr, an 8000-year-old shut-in who hilariously resembles the iconic Count Orlok of Nosferatu, the others are spring chickens. 317-year-old Viago, 862-year-old Vladislav and 183-year-old Deacon like to go clubbing, though their idea of a one-night stand involves draining lifeblood and disposing of a corpse.

Deacon has a human servant, Jackie (Jackie Van Beek), a hanger-on who desperately awaits being "turned," and the guys consider taking on a new flatmate in the disturbingly blasé Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), but mostly the show belongs to Waititi, Clement, and Brugh, each of whom develops a hilarious personality for his Romanian-accented character: Waititi's wide-eyed Viago evinces a naivete that's at times fretful but always ultimately optimistic, while Clement adopts a broody deadpan and Brugh an unbothered self-absorption.

Expanding on the concept of their 2006 short film, Waititi and Clement have a grand old time playing with all of the trappings of the Gothic genre—like the vampire's ability to float around the house and inability to see himself in the mirror—as well as the documentary form, allowing the vamps talking-head interviews and giving us access to centuries of their scrapbook snaps. Ingenious special effects keep the audience off guard when they crop up to remind us that these out-of-touch social misfits also have supernatural power in the extreme. For good measure, we also get a pack of werewolves kept politely in line by their alpha Anton—played by Clement's erstwhile Flight of the Conchords co-star Rhys Darby ("We're werewolves, not swear-wolves")—and destined-to-be-deflated build-up to a meeting of Vladislav and his old nemesis "The Beast."

Shadows has all the makings of the next cult comedy, the one you'll be pleased as punch to pass on to your friends. Like Shaun of the Dead, this won't be to all tastes: the picture dabbles in light gore (mostly spurts of blood), and it's irreverent in its casual disregard to human life. But as much as Shadows takes its power from visceral horror, it also benefits from Romantic depth of feeling in the troubleshooting of relationships: another comic contrast that keeps the film's blood pumping.

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