Amazon Prime Streaming Recommendation – Halloween Edition:
New Zealand actor/director/producer Taika Waititi may now be better known for giving us one of the most crowd-pleasing movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with “Thor: Ragnarok” (the film that made Thor a fan favorite overnight). But before he was on Hollywood’s radar, he was making a name for himself among independent film lovers for his quirky dramas and hilarious comedies.
The comedy he is best known for these days is “What We Do in the Shadows,” a mockumentary about a group of vampires living together in Wellington, that’s easily one of the funniest movies made in the last 10 years at least.
Right from the beginning Waititi and his co-director Jemaine Clement (of Flight of the Conchords fame) make it clear that no element of the lore behind these fictional beings is safe. Everything from being invisible in the mirror to preferring to drink the blood of virgins is turned into a joke. It’s a good mix of subtle, dry humor and over-the-top silliness that will make this a film for both fans and non-fans of vampire fiction.
As fun as some of the over-the-top moments are, the film is at its best when it’s putting the vampire roommates in the same room to sit around discussing normal everyday things. Waititi refers to it in interviews as “the comedy of the mundane,” where the comedy is derived from fantastical, over-the-top people sitting around discussing normal things like whose turn it is to do the dishes.
The basis for the mockumentary is that a film crew has finally been given access to the secret undead society in New Zealand that will soon host its annual “Unholy Masquerade.” Our introduction into the world of the undead is provided by the aforementioned vampire roommates. First there’s Viago ( Taika Waititi), a 379 year old vampire who’s still pining over his lost love. Then there’s Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) the “young” 183 year old, self proclaimed “bad boy” of the group, and Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) an 862 year old vampire who seems to borrow his fashion sense from Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” And finally there’s Petyr (Ben Fransham) an 8,000 year old vampire in the styling of Count Orlok from the classic 1922 silent film Nosferatu.
As hilarious as these characters are, Waititi and Clement are wise enough to provide them with some depth to keep us rooting for them. Vladislav is still getting over a breakup that has left him unable to transform into animals the way he used to. Viago is also still unable to get over a lost love. And Deacon struggles with the fact that he’s no longer the young, bad boy of the group when a new, younger vampire comes along.
“What We Do in the Shadows” ends up becoming a story of friendship. There’s even humorous scenes in which they find friendship with a pack of werewolves who have their own set of humorous problems – like the fact that they ruin all their favorite clothes when they grow into giant wolves in the moonlight. The head of the pack, the alpha male Anton (Rhys Darb) comically tries to keep the werewolves in line, by repeating his tagline, “remember, we’re werewolves, not swearwolves.”
The miraculous thing here is that Waititi and Clement manage to make lovable characters out of these undead creatures. It’s a stylish, hilarious and truly refreshing satire about an odd bit of pop culture. It’s a modern classic that deserves a spot alongside Mel Brook’s classic Dracula parody.
It has also found its way to such mainstream success that it spawned two TV shows. The first an American TV series of the same name to air on FX in 2019. The second a spinoff TV series airing in New Zealand called “Wellington Paranormal” that follows the film’s pair of bumbling police officers as they try to deal with supernatural incidents in the city. Waititi and Clement are serving as writers, producers and directors on both series.
If you’re looking for movies to entertain your friends on Halloween, you can’t do much better than this.