Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"What We Do In the Shadows" (2014/2015)

In a spoof of the “historic” Dracula, the character Vlad in “What We Do in the Shadows” claims that he was known as “Vlad the Poker.” So, later on when he is being taught to use the internet, and he is told that he can “poke” people on social networks, it is an obvious joke. However, Jemaine Clement’s response to this revelation is hilarious. And that artistry is one of the things that makes this mockumentary one of the greats of its subgenre. It came out here in Germany, but I will likely count it as a 2015 film, because it has a chance to make my top ten for either year. That said, despite the extremely effective comedy and the artistry of the production, it is problematic in its outlook.

Like all mockumentaries, “What We Do in the Shadows” pokes fun and satirizes the silliness of certain conventions. In this case it is not real life, but the traditional and more contemporary takes on the vampire myth. And yet, like all satire, it also manages to illuminate some truths, and highlight some errors in culture and society. Case in point, this film like so many lately has us following and sympathizing with vampires, basically symbols of evil. At one point we encounter some vampires that look like children, and we learn that they are going to target some pedophiles for death. Yeah, vampires! And yet all of the characters we focus on in this film (save one) are monsters. They kill people without compunction.

The one character that highlights this disconnect is Stu. He is the human friend of the newest vampire, Nick. Since he is a friend, Nick does not want to kill him and he gets the other vampires to agree to spare him. As they get to know Stu, they begin to appreciate normal activities, and begin to respect him. They almost seem to develop consciences.

Inevitably, however (and spoiler!), Stu is killed by some other monsters. A this point in the film we get its “Existential Manifesto” in a speech from one of the vampires trying to console Nick on the ultimate meaninglessness and suffering that is life. Nick’s response is an incredulous breaking of the fourth wall. His glance at us says it all. That existentialism is such rubbish, and the fact that our culture embraces it in an attempt to make a life devoid of meaning bearable is the silliest problem with our culture.

And, the “happy ending” highlights this disturbing worldview. It turns out that everything is fine because—despite the fact that Stu is dead—he has come back as a monster too. And now these silly men can go on with their monstrous existence.

At least it is a funny one, though.

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