Friday, April 28, 2017

Laughing at the Sucky Stuff

by Cassidy Cannon
Lots of things suck.

In fact, these days it’s hard to encounter something that DOESN’T suck. The news? Sucks. Social media? Sucks. My bank account balance? Sucks, sucks, sucks.

And in this landscape of epic suckage I’ve taken to relishing in the banal; small, predictable bits of my life based wholly in instant gratification. I binge watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer with my cat, cook meals with my boyfriend, and venture out into the Queens sunshine to read—none of these small pleasures are particularly extravagant, but lately they’re the ones that do it for me most. Just last night I was eating a mango watching more Buffy and couldn’t have been happier; I didn’t check Twitter, I didn’t obsessively scroll through headlines—I focused on me, myself, and my immediate surroundings. It was perfect.
The running entertainment during this cleansing phase has been Buffy. A Joss Whedon trash fire that wears its escapism on its sleeve, it’s a show that is cheesy, melodramatic, and super predictable in its attempted curveballs. But however lame, I’m almost out of this magic-infused teenage drama, and with only 40 or so episodes left, I know I’ll miss it. So, in an attempt to wean myself off the certain blonde starlet and her rag tag group of Scoobies, I found the methadone to this entertainment addiction: more suckage.

Specifically, Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s What We Do in the Shadows and how it approaches an eternal life filled with simplicity: errands, roommate conflicts, and blood.

Since the 19th century, Vampires have embodied danger, sex, and desire. Half man, half god and all angst, these once-mortals defy law and ethics; they live life to satiate their id above anything else. Their narratives, steeped in cool brooding energy, almost always involve a slightly androgynous, eerily sexy, and very skinny white person being sad about who knows what. Sure, typically these characters are marred with the trauma of centuries of life under their belts—a soul eroding, left to deteriorate its host into more of an animal that a human or a god—and must act like sad 16-year-olds so we “get it,” but why? In the centuries of vampire lore, so many logistical questions still remain unanswered.
And this is what What We Do In The Shadows does so fantastically. It takes the rules and codes of vampires and runs them through the scope of present-day. And not in that horrendous nightmare version of present day that is Twilight, but realistic present day. How do average human acts translate for beings that have been doing it for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. If you think it pisses you off when someone you live with leaves a dirty dish in the sink for a few days, imagine what that feeling grows into after 100 years.

Viago (Taika Waititi) welcomes us into his dark flat. With a sunny temperament perfectly replicating the excitement of a child, he begins his tour. In the style of a Maysles brothers’ documentary, Viago and his flatmates Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), and the 8000-year-old Pyotr (Ben Fransham) give us an honest interpretation of life as nocturnal citizens of a small New Zealand city and showcase a softer side of vampirism. The world building here is rigorous, and you can see that this was a true labor of love.

What appears on the surface as not much more than a product of a lengthy “what if” conversation about vampiric tropes is a well composed and well-researched homage to the undead. Left to their own devices during the daylight hours, the vamps are delightfully out of touch with 21st century living. Having not quite lost their human ingenuity, however, the group works around modern conventions to live their lives to the fullest, yielding the film’s funnier moments.
We see the bat boys get ready for a night on the town. Each vamp has his chance to show off his outfit—not out of narcissism, mind you, but because they literally can’t use a mirror to gauge on trend-ness. And of course vampires can’t see themselves in mirrors—we all know this, but rarely has a movie highlighted the level of day-to-day inconvenience this brings. To compensate, they turn to drawing stick figures of one another in charcoal to give an impression of what their outfits look like. Like, if that’s not tender, caring friendship, I don’t know what is. The front half of the movie is full of instances like these; we see the group trying to get into a club and fail due to lack of invitation, struggle to acquire victims, and play tough in front of a gang of werewolves.

The ludicrosity continues as a new vampire joins the nest. After an attempted feeding gone awry, Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), gets sired by the monstrous Pyotr. Young, dumb, and itching to share his new secret, Nick begins causing problems immediately. He does, however, bring along his best mate Stu—a wonderfully mundane young man with little to no personality. The vampires adore him, he quenches their thirst for newness and essentially functions as the film’s Bella Swan.

While the movie is 900% hilarious, this new undead perspective is complex, and still manages to pull at your heartstrings. Its darkness is one of reflection—speaking to the sadness of our heroes’ plight. As men who have lived for centuries, they are faced with daily tasks that, much like water torture, begin to wear them down as people. Viago even comments on Vladislav, saying it’s a wonder he’s kept himself together after so many years of life.

The film sets up a bit and follows it through to absurdity. Backed by an impressive score and coursing with goofs, it’s a comedy that doesn’t have to advertise how smart it is. What We Do in the Shadows is a wonderful smorgasbord of vampiric lore that both honors the banal as well as make it somewhat scary. It’s the standard of what horror-comedy should be and I wish there were six seasons of it so I could watch that instead of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.


  1. So you could watch that "as well as" Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cassidy, surely?

    You still have 110 episodes of Angel if you're running low on Buffy. In many ways a more mature series (if you don't include Smile Time). Plus: Lorne, Wesley, Fred and, latterly, motherfunckin' William the Bloody himself.

    I hope you covered your cat's eyes during the scene in Buffy in which Spike and a bunch of other demons played poker with these animals as the chips.

    1. I watched that episode last night! Extremely extremely good goof.

    2. If anyone's interested in devouring both Buffy and Angel, here is a suggested watching order I compiled a while ago. It also includes comic books, but you can just ignore those if you're not into them. I think I've come up with a pretty solid watching order for the episodes so all the references, big and small, make sense.

      That site also has a lot more timelines besides mine for us nerds to pour over.

    3. Wow, and I thought I was a fan. Can I assume, Mikko, that you listen to Dusted, Lani Diane Rich and Alastair Stephens' podcast about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel? It's defunct now, sadly, and they didn't get to cover every episode. If you listen to it you probably know that.

      I'd say I'm more of a geek than a nerd, in the sense that I like to bite the heads off live chickens. That's not always as straightforward as it might seem.

    4. You know what assuming makes you and me... No, I'm not familiar with the podcast, but I'll definitely check it out.

  2. I'm gonna cry! I anticipated this movie for months or a year after my sister saw it at a screening in Hawaii and said it was THE BEST EVER and when I watched it when it was released a year later it ..was just...a horrible experience of me checking the clock to see how long was left for me to find it funny. I failed! And Taika Waititi and Jemaine are my boyfriends. And I failed :(((( I'm waiting for enough time to pass to try again but idk. It's painful to like even hear this movie's name.

    1. Like it's locked! And I don't have the key!

    2. It's definitely like VERY New Zealand in its humor. His blend of dark/goofy bit like hits me directly in the funny bone.

    3. It hits your funny bone and it like punches ME in the heart? F! Bc I'm not New Zealandy enough. Damn.
      In my dreams they whisper sweet funny nothings to me in their language you know. Tangent: I wish I could say there was a very HAWAII humor but like nothing in Hawaii is ever funny. The sovereignty battle is still playing out culturally. We have to fight Donald Trump (so proud of my state btw), and North Korea. Tons of movies get made here but nothing ever good or ever funny about Hawaii. Not like NZ at all.

    4. At least the Aloha State isn't overrun by orcs. Apparently, a breeding pair of these creatures got loose when Peter Jackson was filming his Lord of the Rings saga and New Zealand is now teeming with them. Hawaii has that little troublemaker Experiment 626, but he turned out to be nice in the end. Count your blessings. New Zealand is beautiful, but it's empty and there's bugger all to do. The ratio of sheep to people is six to one. I guess zoophiles have something to do. The Kiwi sense of humour is informed by this sort of thing. There's someone sitting in a cottage in Hawke's Bay at this moment wishing he or she lived in Honolulu, I guarantee it. You should be doing the Dance of Joy, Meredith.

      A lot of us non-Hawaiians are proud of your "island in the Pacific" and Derrick Watson, too. Hana maikaŹ»i!

    5. That's interesting. I didn't realize that's where kiwi humor came from. A lot of NZ performers visit here, we have cultural similarities...they're like our way funnier cousins.

  3. I finished watching What We Do in the Shadows for the first time a moment ago. I paused the end credits just so I could come to this website to share my newly minted love for this film. It's fantastic, and something I know I'll put on again; I get the feeling there are some jokes I may have missed.

    To unleash my own inner Quibbler — harmonica riff here — for a moment, Petyr was a bit of a nothing character whose death served only as a plot device. How do you have a Nosferatu in your movie and make him a cipher? I don't know how that guy stayed alive for eight thousand years if he was so easy to kill. And these bloodrats need to learn theyselves some Buffyverse lore: you don't need an invitation to enter a building that's open to the general public, guys. Quibble mode off.

    I'm not sure I'd like to see a television series made from the concept, but a sequel focusing on the werewolves would be nice. Love me some Rhys Darby.

    Sighs Back to the end credits. Bugs me that one has sit through all that with movies nowadays. I'd like to blame Marvel, but I'm sure it's been going on longer than that. Time used to be that as soon as "Fin" appeared on the screen, you could put on your coat and make for the exit sign, or turn the telly off.

  4. I've never seen What We Do in the Shadows. Is it any good?

  5. That might take the cake for oddest succession of comments ever, Nonnymouse (Nonnymice?) :)

    I tried to watch the copy of What We Do in the Shadows I bought on Ebay last night, but the damn thing was Region B only (the listing said it was Region All) :( I was really looking forward to watching it again - it's brilliant! For all the reasons you say, Cass - it's just a perfect genre comedy.

    I plan on watching Buffy soon - I completely dismissed it at the time it was on, but Filmcrit Hulk claims it has some of the best storytelling of any show ever and that Hulk knows his stuff.

  6. There may be imitators aplenty, Sol, but there is only one Nonnymouse.

    Doctor Who is on this evening, so there could be another inapropos comment coming up. Anthony Stewart Head (was "Tony Head" not fancy enough, Anthony?) gained international fame as Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and also played an evil alien headmaster in "Reunion", a season two episode of Nu Who. He's also said he wouldn't mind taking over the role of the titular Time Lord when Capaldi jumps TARDIS. I wasn't shouting just then; that's how it's spelt. That is the connection to Cass's article right there. Nah, I'm not a jerk, I wouldn't do that (I am a jerk and I would do that).

    This Hulk fellow of whom you speak must indeed know his stuff. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is sublime. Angel ain't too shabby neither. I watched the first couple of seasons of Breaking Bad and The Wire. They were good, but there wasn't much heart to them, at least for me. "Buffy" is loved, but it doesn't always get the respect it deserves.

    I hope you give this eBay seller a jolly bad review.

  7. I've just realised what was meant by "oddest succession of comments ever". I can be slow on the uptake sometimes. Occasionally. Always. There's a post-credits scene in What We Do in the Shadows in which Deacon wipes our mi... you're one of those "We should leave now so we can get out of the car park first" types, aren't you, Sol?

    The irrelevant, unnecessary crap you must have missed in Marvel movies by doing this. "It's a big hammer". So—the flip—what?

    1. Brilliant! You're right - I never saw that post-credits sequence! Though I wasn't fortunate enough to see this in a theatre - I VOD'ed it the first time and apparently didn't get the full bang for my buck!