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What We Do in the Shadows Blu-ray Review

What We Do in the Shadows (2015) movie poster What We Do in the Shadows

US Theatrical Release: February 13, 2015 (New Zealand: June 19, 2014) / Running Time: 86 Minutes / Rating: R

Writers/Directors: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi

Cast: Jemaine Clement (Vladislav), Taika Waititi (Viago), Jonathan Brugh (Deacon), Cori Gonzalez-Macuer (Nick), Stuart Rutherford (Stu), Ben Fransham (Petyr), Jackie Van Beek (Jackie), Elena Stejko (Pauline "The Beast" Ivanovich), Jason Hoyte (Julian), Karen O'Leary (Officer O'Leary), Mike Minogue (Officer Minogue), Chelsie Preston Crayford (Josephine), Ian Harcourt (Zombie), Rhys Darby (Anton), Simon Vincent (Dion), Cohen Holloway (Clifton), Duncan Sarkies (Declan)

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"Flight of the Conchords" is one of the rare television series that ended before it should have. The HBO comedy about a New Zealand folk duo living in New York, a fictional portrayal of a real comedy band that had been part of New Zealand since the late 1990s, was full of hilarity and catchy songs in assorted styles. But after two seasons totaling 22 episodes, the series ended in 2009 at the behest of its creators, who found it took a great deal of time and effort to make. In the years since,
the Kiwis behind "Conchords" have made their mark on the American film industry. Bret McKenzie wrote songs for the two recent Muppets movies, which were both directed by his "Conchords" co-creator and director James Bobin. Jemaine Clement, meanwhile, has been seen or simply heard in a host of major movies, including Men in Black 3, Despicable Me, Rio, Rio 2, Dinner for Schmucks, and Muppets Most Wanted.

Clement recently picked up his first creative credit since the days of "Conchords", as the co-writer/director of What We Do in the Shadows, a New Zealand comedy film about vampires.

What We Do takes a documentary approach, informing us that a small crew of cameramen has been given crucifixes and unfettered access to a house of vampires in a suburb of Wellington, New Zealand. We are soon introduced to the house's inhabitants: the dutiful yet playful 379-year-old Viago (co-writer/director Taika Waititi); Vladislav (Clement), a classical 862-year-old; young buck Deacon (Jonathan Brugh), aged 183; and Petyr (Ben Fransham), an ornery, dungeon-dwelling relic now 8,000 years old.

These vampires aren't all that different from us. They enjoy a good time out in the city and aren't big fans of chores. But they do require a steady intake of human blood, can only be awake in between sunset and sunrise, and have to be explicitly invited to enter nightclubs.

Three vampires (Taika Waititi, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, and Jemaine Clement) join their new human friend Stu (Stu Rutherford), as he grabs a bite to eat in "What We Do in the Shadows."

The premise and execution of What We Do reminds one of a television series. It is easy to imagine this material being turned into a weekly show you could describe as "'True Blood' Meets 'The Office.'" You have to imagine HBO would have been interested to reteam with Clement on another funny, offbeat project. But he and Waititi, his Eagle vs. Shark writer/director, have instead fashioned a feature film and a fitfully entertaining, albeit slightly episodic, one at that.

The secret society of vampires grows to include the newly-turned Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), whose loose lips, copycat fashions, and boastful claims that he "is Twilight from Twilight" all strike the others as wildly inappropriate. Nick's best friend, the mild-mannered Stu (Stu Rutherford), becomes the rare human to join the coven's ranks. Once they get over the urge to eat him, the software analyst introduces them to the Internet.

Clement and Waititi have great fun bridging the vast gap between traditional vampire lore and modern-day living. These vampires may be deadly, ageless monsters, but they're also nerdy, overdramatic bachelors sharing a house in New Zealand and trying to blend in with the local nightlife scene. Visual effects are used sparingly but effectively. Production design and costumes do more of the work to job of selling the fantasy.

Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) makes a dramatic appearance at the annual Unholy Masquerade Ball.

You could see this concept potentially growing tiresome, so perhaps it's best that What We Do is a movie and, at just 85 minutes and change with credits, a short one.
It definitely ends before wearing out its welcome and even recovers from what seems to be an obligatory Blair Witch Project-style climax to deliver more satisfaction and laughs after that. Though Wikipedia describes the movie as found footage, it is decidedly more a mockumentary than that and the distinction is critical. While found footage has grown stale from a few years of concentrated overuse, the mockumentary has more or less been resigned to television, where it invites comparisons to certain ridiculous pockets of non-competitive reality television. Returned to the medium of This Is Spinal Tap, the format feels somewhat fresh again and at least ensures What We Do cannot be accused of being just like other vampire movies and comedies.

With this project undoubtedly looking a bit weird and commercially uncertain to the Hollywood studios, Clement had to turn to Kickstarter to secure financing for American distribution, raising nearly half a million dollars on the crowdfunding site. That seems to have paid off, with the movie grossing more in North America than the rest of the world combined as the first film jointly distributed by Unison Films and Paladin Pictures. The $3.4 million haul surely owes some to the glowing reviews written by American critics, which currently rank it twelfth among all 2015 releases on Rotten Tomatoes.

While Clement's bandmate McKenzie was not involved in this movie in any way, Rhys Darby, the comedian who played the Conchords' goateed, ginger band manager, does show up in three scenes, including two of the film's best, as "alpha male" leader of a pack of werewolves (not "swearwolves"). These brief appearances represent Darby's most hilarious work since he last played Murray Hewitt, demonstrating that while there may be temptation to work with others, the Conchords gang is absurdly well suited to working with one another. Now, how about a Conchords movie? Or another season, HBO?

Displaying a newfound willingness to bring indie films to home video, Paramount Home Media Distribution handles this week's North American DVD and Blu-ray release of What We Do in the Shadows.

What We Do in the Shadows Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.78:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: July 21, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($29.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video


Though it's rare to find a genre movie with a budget as low as its $1.6 M, What We Do in the Shadows still looks great on Blu-ray, sporting a flawless 1.78:1 presentation and immersive 5.1 DTS-HD master audio. It's maybe not a movie you use to show off your home theater, but it genuinely impresses, not only with the expected A/V excellence but with the great use it makes of inexpensive visual effects.

Ben Frensham gets set on fire safely as part of a pyrotechnics test seen in "Behind the Shadows." Newly-turned vampires want to hang out with our protagonists in this deleted scene.


The rear cover promises "over 2 hours of fang-tastic features!" and the disc lives up to that even without counting the audio commentary. The track features writers-directors-stars Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi. They provide good screen-specific information throughout, touching on topics like improvisation, make-up, adapting their short film, and editing.
It's not as funny a track as you might expect given the movie, but it is informative and thoughtful.

On the video front, where all is encoded in HD, we begin with "Behind the Shadows" (17:36), a making-of featurette comprised entirely of on-set footage. From pyrotechnics stunts tests and make-up application to projectile blood vomit and a score jam session, this show-don't-tell piece gives us insight into this little passion project.

Twelve deleted scenes (31:33) follow. Unsurprisingly for a film heavy on improvisation, these cut bits are not bad and may even tickle your funny bone more than some of what's in the film. Primarily cut for time, theses humorous scenes including more hanging out, a lot more computer talk (from eBay to Facebook), more newly-turned vampires, more Stu, and the bizarre sight of nipple eyes, and two graveside eulogies.

The original 2005 short film on which "What We Do in the Shadows" is based stays very close to the final product. Deacon's servant Jackie (Jackie Van Beek) features in "Jackie the Familiar."

Video Extras houses a host of odds and ends. First up and arguably the most exciting of all extras is the original 2005 short film (27:25) from which the feature was born. It is very similar to the final product in many ways, from casting to characters to jokes, so it's interesting to spot any departures.

What follows seems like further additional scenes. "Erotic Deacon" (3:25) extends the vampire's mesh tank topped dance act. "Viago Sings" (2:33), as you can guess, lets that vampire sing tenderly, while playing ukulele. Vlad shows off his talents in "Vlad Paints" (1:41), as Viago poses for him, and with some terse recitals in "Vlad's Poetry" (1:10). "Jackie the Familiar" (5:03) finds Deacon's human associate helping him with menial tasks. "Night Dentist" (3:59) shows Jackie trying to get Deacon in to see a dentist at night. "What Stu Does" (3:36) tags along with Stu at his IT office job. "Vampire & Werewolf Dance" (1:11) lives up to its name with a little gravity-defying dance party.

Viago (Taika Waititi) gives an interview. One of fifty one-sheet designs featured in the poster gallery.

Interviews (18:35) serves up a few minutes of camera addresses from Deacon, Viago, Vladislav,
Police, Anton and the Werewolves, and The Zombie. They offer further diversion in the same vein as the movie.

Six short promo videos (6:39) advertise the film with clips from it and unique character introductions.

Finally, a poster gallery shows off 50 one-sheet designs, most of them too creative or artistic to be used as actual marketing.

No inserts accompany the plainly-labeled blue disc inside the unslipcovered eco-friendly keepcase, meaning that no Digital HD is included on this release.

The basic, static, silent menu adapts the cover art. Bookmarks are supported on the film, but the disc does not resume playback.

The vampires of "What We Do in the Shadows" (Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Ben Fransham, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) and Stu (Stu Rutherford) pose for a lovely group photograph.


What We Do in the Shadows is certainly not your typical comedy or your typical zombie movie. This fresh New Zealand mockumentary amuses repeatedly in an offbeat way. Paramount's Blu-ray offers a first-rate feature presentation plus plenty of entertaining extras. Give this disc a look!

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Related Reviews:
Written and Directed by Taika Waititi and Starring Jemaine Clement: Eagle vs. Shark
Jemaine Clement: Muppets Most Wanted Men in Black 3 Gentlemen Broncos Dinner for Schmucks Rio Despicable Me
Vampires: Vamps Only Lovers Left Alive Hotel Transylvania Dark Shadows Bram Stoker's Dracula Vampire Academy Fright Night (2011)
Warm Bodies The Originals: Season 1 Dylan Dog: Dead of Night Hot Fuzz Zombieland Hell Baby Jennifer's Body This Is the End
New to Blu-ray: Ex Machina It Follows Burying the Ex | Rhys Darby: Coming & Going Yes Man Arthur Christmas

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Reviewed July 23, 2015.

Text copyright 2015 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2015 Unison Films, Defender Films, The New Zealand Documentary Board, The New Zealand Film Commission, Shadows Productions, Two Canoes Pictures, and Paramount Home Entertainment.

Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.