Blog Directory CineVerse: A modern horror comedy you can sink your teeth into

A modern horror comedy you can sink your teeth into

Friday, October 9, 2020

Horror comedies can be hit (exhibit A: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein) or miss (exhibit B: Scary Movie). A recent example of the former is What We Do in the Shadows, written and directed by Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi. The colorful vampire roommates who populate this tale may suck, but the movie certainly doesn’t. Here’s proof, as summarized from our CineVerse group discussion this week (click here to listen to a recording of that discussion):

What did you find surprising, satisfying, curious, or interesting about this film?

  • It spoofs many classic vampire tropes, as you’d expect, including the need to find human victims, avoiding daylight, not having a reflection in the mirror, sleeping in a coffin, having to be invited in by someone to their dwelling, and being ancient/living forever.
  • But it also portrays characters and situations you wouldn’t necessarily associate with a vampire movie, including a boring side character named Stu who works in IT, roommate squabbles, practical matters like whose turn it is to do the dishes, selling goods on eBay, and getting into nightclubs. Blogger Richard Nelson wrote: “It embraces mundanity – putting these supernatural creatures in the same dull suburban lifestyles that we all know.”
  • This works as a true ensemble piece in which three primary characters share screen time fairly equally – much like This Is Spinal Tap – and there are several colorful smaller parts.
  • Despite being produced on a scant $1.6 million budget, there’s strong attention to detail throughout the movie, with commendable work done in the makeup department, special effects, and production design of the home the vampires share.
  • The picture doesn’t overstay its welcome, clocking in at a brisk 86 minutes and, apparently, utilizing the very best bits and takes (from more than 125 hours of footage shot).
  • What We Do in the Shadows can also be as touching and sweet as it is sharply satirical, comedically edgy, and irreverent. Consider how the roommates and friends can bond and reconcile with each other after squabbles and how delighted they are to see that Stu has survived his werewolf attack.
  • Ponder, as well, that each of the roommates represents a vampire archetype we’ve seen in other stories and films: there is a Nosferatu-like character in Petyr, a dandy in Viago who would fit nicely in an Anne Rice novel, a womanizing count in Vlad the Poker, and a bad boy rebel (perhaps like one of The Lost Boys) in Deacon.

Themes prevalent in What We Do in the Shadows

  • Social and cultural marginalization. Co-director Taika Waititi said in an interview: “I always liked the idea that vampires were a metaphor for marginalized groups; immigrants, homosexuals, anyone who’s had to live in the shadows of society.”
    • Film review blogger Joey Keogh wrote: “Much of the laughs – and it is a painfully funny film – come from the central trio’s inability to behave like normal people, and their desire to simultaneously blend in and stand out in modern society.”
  • Mid-life crises. Co-director Jermaine Clement was quoted as saying: “I think this film is a lot about middle age. Reflecting on regret, on your life, on not being able to get over things that you thought you’d be able to move past.”
  • The compromises involved with cohabitation. Each vampire roommate is unique in personality and mindset and from a different background, which inevitably leads to clashes and disagreements. Interestingly, the undead roommates learn to work things out, despite their differences.
  • Acceptance of outsiders. The housemates come to respect and admire Stu, even though he’s a mortal with a relatively bland personality.
  • The inability to escape our pasts and true natures. We see that Viago is still holding a flame for his lost love, whom he returns to wooing by the end of the movie; Vlad resorts to his torturing ways and rekindles a love/hate affair with his old girlfriend The Beast; and Nick can’t help but brag to everyone that he’s a vampire.

Like-minded movies

  • Mockumentaries such as This Is Spinal Tap, Best in Show, Take the Money and Run, and Borat
  • Horror comedies like Young Frankenstein, Shaun of the Dead, and Dracula: Dead and Loving It
  • Reality TV programs including The Real World

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