The Mockumentary is one of the rarest but most loved genres out there. Ever since the hilarious rockumentary This is Spinal Tap was put forth by Rob Reiner in 1984, these things have been a source for parody and humor for the past 30 years. Christopher Guest has since come up with some of the most popular including Best in Show (1999), and A Mighty Wind (2003). I love these movies but I was thinking, due to the very low budget, freedom to improvise, and inherently large fan base, why isn’t there more?
The answer lies in the subject matter. They are incredibly hard to pull off and nearly impossible to convince people that the characters could be real. The writers really have to know the subject inside and out and the actors need to be strong and deep inside their character if they want to be convincing. Then I thought maybe there aren’t that many subjects to be tackled in mockumentary form; it’s usually reserved for bands and fake famous people. But over in New Zealand, Jemaine Clement and his writing partner Taika Waititi managed to cook up something new, fresh, and surprisingly not done yet.
What We Do in the Shadows is a hilarious look at vampires rooming together in a dark 21st century house. We follow Waititi as Viago, the flamboyant vampire with high tastes as he takes us around his daily routine with his roommates. There’s Jemaine Clement who plays Vlad the poker, a ruthless lothario dealing with his arch nemesis “The Beast”, and Deacon, the cool young vampire of the group. Locked far away in a tomb downstairs is the oldest and most terrifying of them all; Petyr, a Nosfuratu like monster who doesn’t have much to contribute since he’s so old. Together, we follow the group hunt for victims, adjust to 21st century life, and make friends with a plain human named Stu.
The movie is very clever, playing on classic Vampire tropes and even hitting on new Twilight type humor like the gang’s feud with a struggling group of werewolves (not swear wolves) led by the Flight of the Conchords old manager Rhys Darby. It goes way over the top but stays grounded with a few heartfelt moments about vampire feelings and downsides. We see them struggle with their long ago pasts as they try to teach a newly turned vampire the techniques for draining humans of their blood. Mostly, they’re just interested in going out and dancing.
It’s also a strong testament to independent filmmakers as it was made for less than two million dollars but still looks great. I feel we can all agree New Zealand isn’t the most burgeoning of places for film besides Lord of the Rings. Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement have been behind a few comedies including the goofy love story Eagle Vs Shark in 2007 and a short film that inspired this mockumentary. It would seem these guys fill a certain niche of goofy humor filled with lovable losers, puns, and absurdist type comedy.
Jemaine seems to pop up in small flashy roles in films that people love like Dinner for Shmucks or Men in Black 3. Here, he balances nicely with the other cast, Bret McKenzie free in another bright role. If you’re a fan of his, don’t miss this little horror comedy gem. It might be his best role so far. On a semi related note, my friend saw him in a Chapters Bookstore in Vancouver last week. Apparently he shops in Chapters. Who knew?
So if this movie has taught us anything, it’s that mockumentaries can be damn hilarious and if you haven’t experienced one, go check out any Chris Guest movie or re-watch The Office. It’s just such a different and fun way of doing things. Number two, it’s taught us that if you want to make a cheap film, why not try a mockumentary? They are easy, fun, and usually get a good response. Number three, New Zealand comedy is hilarious and there are plenty of films to check out by this great group who never forgets their roots down there. And Number four, vampires can actually be hilarious. If you’re a staunch new age vampire film hater, give it up and see this one. Watching Jemaine try to turn into a cat for a split second will make it all worth it. More Mockumentaries please?!?!!
By Ryan Uytdewilligen