THE STORY – Vampire housemates (Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh) try to cope with the complexities of modern life and show a newly turned hipster (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) some of the perks of being undead.
THE CAST – Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Rhys Darby, Jonathan Brugh, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer & Stu Rutherford
THE TEAM – Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi (Directors/Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 85 Minutes
By Josh Parham
There has always been a great fascination in the blending of two genres that, on face value, would seem to be so different from each other that it seems impossible to meld the two. Horror and comedy feel so diametrically opposed that the mixture is probable to create a disastrous tonal mess. However, many filmmakers have managed to combine these two to great effect. This is because they recognize the inherent necessity for comedy to be triggered by a moment of horror, and that understanding has produced many great films. The filmmakers behind this particular film understand that was well, and while it definitely falls much more onto the comedy side, it is another entertaining enterprise.
Presented in a mockumentary style, the film showcases an intimate look at the casual lives of a group of vampires living together in a New Zealand city. Viago (Taika Waititi) is a 19th-century dandy who tries to keep order in the flat, even when forces fight against him. Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) provides the brooding sex appeal that still finds difficulty to win people over. Deacon (Jonny Brugh) is the angsty and fiery one who finds confrontation most. There is also Petyr (Ben Fransham), the most ancient and decrepit looking of them that dwells in the basement and content with his solitary life. They are all thrust into a new situation when a newly transformed vampire, Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) joins their group and slowly starts disrupting their preconceived attitudes and norms.
The collaboration of writers-directors Clement and Waititi has produced years of notable comedic content, most specifically being the Flight of the Concords material. They continue their indulgence of deadpan humor here and manage to create something that charms all the way through. Their sensibilities strike a fine balance between the comedy and horror elements of the film, and it is a great accomplishment that these tonal shifts never feel jarring. They are blended together in just the right way, oftentimes to the most hilarious effect. All this is even more impressive considering the film’s heavily improvised story structure. Despite this method, most of the scenes don’t have the air of desperation and over-length for which many improvised comedies can be faulted, and it’s another element to the film that works so well.
The actual filmmaking itself isn’t the most remarkable, it must be said. There is certainly nothing here that veers off into the direction of bad, but its commitment to the faux-documentary aesthetic forces it into a look never rises above the level of serviceable. Even with some (very slight), visual effects work in the film, none of it is shot in a particular way that evokes a grand sense of style. It can be mostly forgiven since the comedic bits between the characters are clearly the film’s focus. At the same time, it is an element to the film that doesn’t add that much to it, and considering how ample these filmmakers have shown their skills in other works, it is slightly disappointing to not get a more visually active piece. Apart from the really impressive makeup throughout, there really isn’t too much here on a technical level that leaves one that impressed.
This movie lives or dies by the delivery of its material by the actors, and fortunately, this material is in more than capable hands. Waititi inhabits the role of a rather disorganized ringleader, and watching him try to find control amongst the chaos is an utter delight. Clement gives arguably the best performance in the film, as his devilish charm attempting to mask a great insecurity never fails to deliver a hearty smile. Of the main trio, Brugh is probably the weakest of the bunch, but he still manages to provide many entertaining moments, particularly with his confrontational banter with the group. The deadpan delivery of Gonzalez-Macuer in every scene rarely fails to inject a scene with a nice punch of humor, even when in lesser hands it would become stale and tiresome.
However, the main actors are not the members of this ensemble that deliver. Jackie van Beek plays a subservient to Deacon who grows increasingly frustrated by the demands of her position, and watching her contributions is another highlight to the film. Rhys Darby, a prominent collaborator with this creative team, is the leader of a pack of werewolves that, through only a handful of scenes, provide some of the film’s most memorable and entertaining moments, particularly with his great delivery. There is also a brief scene between two police officers who arrive at the residence after a reported disturbance, and the performances by Karen O’Leary and Mike Minogue offer such a great comedic moment, particularly from the former. The rest of the cast is just as limited in their roles, but also just as endearing.
While this is an incredibly funny movie, there is a feeling that in the end, it really doesn’t add up to very much. It’s true that there isn’t a great theme running throughout its story, and coupled with the lackluster filmmaking behind it, that does keep it from being something truly miraculous. At the same time, the pleasure it provides cannot be denied, especially through these performances. It may not be the absolute best of what this mashup of genres can provide, but it is still a worthy entry that will leave you smiling all the way to the end.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Very humorous set-pieces delivered by great actors.
THE BAD – Not a lot of thematic weight and the filmmaking is a bit pedestrian.