I first met Taika Waititi during a previous chapter of my life, as Wellington manager of the 48 Hour film competition. Taika won that event with a film, Heinous Crime, notorious for its humour, anarchy and economy (he played all the parts as well as writing/improvising the script and directing). Since then he has made an Academy Award-nominated short film and two features that demonstrated a willingness to go beyond the cheap absurdist joke and mine emotion as well as comedy from stories of the disconnected and the abandoned.
His latest film, What We do in the Shadows, (co-created by former Humourbeasts collaborator and Conchord Jemaine Clement) is a wonderful throwback to those heady days when nothing was more important than a great gag — visual or verbal — and a reminder that Taika is one of the finest comedians New Zealand has ever produced.
In the world of 48 Hour filmmaking, mockumentry has become one the most reviled genres — usually a tired mishmash of clichés and one-joke stories with the handheld aesthetic doing a poor job of hiding lack of resource rather than justifying its own existence, and the opening couple of minutes of WWDitS feels like it might fall in to the same trap. But then a great joke lands with considerable velocity — and no small amount of technical skill — and you realise that the execution of this film is going to be on another level altogether.
Taika is Viago, our host, showing the skeleton crew of documentary makers the ropes of vampire life in New Zealand’s capital city. He and his flatmates, Jemaine Clement, Jonny Brugh and the brilliantly underacting Nosferatu-like Ben Fransham, bicker about chores, jostle for supremacy and try and enjoy an eternal midnight chewing on the flesh of virgins (or as close as they can get). But a failure to finish off young Kiwi bloke Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) leaving him as a vampire they find that their entrée into Courtenay Place nightlife is a mixed blessing.
The only time the flow is interrupted is when Rhys Darby turns up as the alpha male of the local werewolf pack. It’s not so much that he isn’t funny — he certainly is — it’s just that he doesn’t transcend his limitations quite as successfully as the others and for a moment the illusion fails.
Inventive, pacy, confident and unashamedly local — What We Do in the Shadows is a dark lark. I’m a wowser so I always prefer my horror to be comedic and I wasn’t disappointed.[info]
June Film Recommandations
DOCUMENTARY EDGE FESTIVAL
5–15 June: Over 50 recent documentaries screen over 12 days at the Roxy in Miramar. If you are tempted to watch more than one title a day, take advantage of the great Coco cuisine between films.
EDGE OF TOMORROW (Doug Liman)
Opens 5 June: Tom Cruise’s annual sci-fi blockbuster co-stars him with Emily Blunt in the tale of a soldier fighting the same day of a war against aliens — over and over again like Groundhog Day.
MILLION DOLLAR ARM (Craig Gillespie)
19 June: Mad Men’s Jon Hamm shows he has range by growing some stubble and loosening his tie as a baseball scout searching for talent in India. Alan Arkin plays Alan Arkin and they’re joined by Suraj Sharma from Life of Pi.
TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION 4 (Michael Bay)
26 June: Director Bay insists that this Transformers film will be a return to the indie character-driven dramas of the early episodes in the series rather than the bloat of Dark of the Moon. Time will have to tell, I guess. Safe-but-dull pair of hands Mark Wahlberg replaces unstable Shia LaBeouf.[/info]