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Sundance Film Review: ‘What We Do in the Shadows’

Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement direct themselves in this anemic vampire romp.

With:

Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stu Rutherford, Jackie Van Beek, Ben Fransham.

A mock documentary about Wellington vampires, “What We Do in the Shadows” begins with a title card jokingly crediting the pic to “the New Zealand Documentary Board” — the first and nearly the last gag related to its would-be comic conceit. Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement direct themselves as, respectively, Viago, aged 379, and Vladislav, 862, amiable bloodsuckers who share a flat along with “bad boy” Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), 183, and the 8,000-year-old Petyr (Ben Fransham). Some genre fans who prefer the silly to the satiric may bite, but the anemic pic isn’t remotely weird or witty enough for cult immortality.

Characteristic of the movie’s sense of humor is a scene in which the fussy Viago, struggling to primp himself for a night on the town, looks to the camera and complains, “The bad thing about not having a reflection is that you don’t know what you look like.” Equally funny mock-newsreel footage reveals Viago’s Nazi past.

Needing someone to help lure fresh victims to their pad (and to clean their kitchen full of bloody dishes), the undead roomies sentence the human Jackie (Jackie Van Beek) to a life of indentured servitude with the possibility of immortality. Another temporary human, the twentysomething Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), gets bitten by the decrepit Petyr and becomes a total pain in the neck, bragging to anyone he can find that he’s the next Nosferatu.

Feeling eternal at 87 minutes, the film introduces a rival gang of G-rated werewolves (“We’re werewolves, not swearwolves!”) and drags its way to the Unholy Masquerade Ball, populated by hard-partying vampires as well as zombies — the movie’s final act of desperation.

Waititi, director of Kiwi hits “Eagle vs. Shark” and “Boy,” makes a genial vampire dandy, but, like Clement (co-star of HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords”), he doesn’t have nearly enough to do. On the plus side, the film’s cinematography is sharp and colorful, and some of the special effects work well despite budgetary limitations, particularly those involving the transformation of vampires into bats and back again.

Popular on Variety

Sundance Film Review: ‘What We Do in the Shadows’

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Park City at Midnight), Jan. 20, 2014. Running time: 87 MIN.

Production:

(New Zealand-U.S.) A Unison Films, Defender Films, Funny or Die production. (International sales: Wild Bunch/Elle Driver, Paris.) Produced by Taika Waititi, Chelsea Winstanley, Emanuel Michael. Executive producers, Waititi, Jemaine Clement. Co-producer, Pamela Harvey White.

Crew:

Directed, written by Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement. Camera (color, HD), Richard Bluck, DJ Stipsen; editors, Yana Gorskaya, Jonno Woodford-Robinson; music, Plan 9, David Donaldson, Steve Roche, Janet Roddick; art director, Ra Vincent; costume designer, Amanda Neale; set decorators, Amber Richards, Ben Whale; sound, Chris Hiles, Alexis Feodoroff, Toby Lloyd; supervising sound editor, Simon Riley; stunt coordinator, Rodney Cook; visual effects supervisors, Stan Alley, Darwin Go; special effects supervisors, Steve Ingram, Doug Falconer; assistant director, Rodney Smith.

With:

Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, Stu Rutherford, Jackie Van Beek, Ben Fransham.

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