What We Do in The Shadows (2014)

What do you think when we say New Zealand? Maoris? Lamb? Chups? Hobbits? Kiwi comedy, What We Do in The Shadows would like to draw your attention to its undead quota. Namely Vampires. In this faux-documentary written by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, four bloodsuckers form a house share in Wellington. Rising everyday at 6pm, they’re bogged down in the same politics all houses shares have; fighting about housework, going on a lads night out and tidying away spinal columns left on the floor. We’ve all been there. When a freshly turned vampire moves in with his human friend, they are forced to adapt to a new way of life.

The joy of What We Do in The Shadows is watching how the macabre is turned down to mundane. Yes, you can live forever, but how do you get into the hottest nightclub in Wellington when vampire lore states explicitly that you have to be invited into any building? And for that matter, how do you dress if you can’t see yourself in the mirror? Clement and Waititi’s film develops some novel twists on the stereotypes we’ve come to expect from Nosferatu. Want to know why Dracula always drank virgin blood? Well, Vlad has a rather astute analogy involving sandwiches, if you care to hear. And it doesn’t just stop with digs at the supernatural, the film is equally at home exposing the tropes of the documentary genre.

From beginning to end, the laughs come thick and fast and a cameo from Rhys Darby will readdress any support you had for Team Jacob during the Twilight’s heyday. Occasionally, to the film’s credit, the merriment takes a backseat to allow the film to pump some pathos through its veins. Either through Viago, the lovestruck, foppish member of the house (played brilliantly by Waititi) pining for love, or party-vamp Deacon lamenting the loss of friends to swans.

It’s all so deliciously funny and if What We Do in The Shadows doesn’t raise at least a titter from you, then you might want to check you’re not one of the undead yourself.

Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)

Eve (Tilda Swinton) lives in Tangier. Her husband, Adam (Tom Hiddleston), in Detroit. Eve lives vibrantly from day to day, surrounded by her books. Adam, a musician, is disillusioned with life, hiding away from the world and his fans. At first introductions, they don’t seem to have much in common. However, they love each other passionately and unashamedly. They also happen to be vampires. After Adam hints at ending his life, Eve rushes to his side.

Despite the potential for bloodletting and, god forbid, sparkling in the sunlight, Jim Jarmusch’s latest puts the vampirism on the back burner to a certain extent. Like Trainspotting with its cast of tweekers and junkies, the couple’s cravings are merely an extension of their characters, rather than the complete picture. After all, their thirst for the red stuff is sated through their contacts. For Adam, it’s a trip to a hospital’s bloodbank, whilst Eve gets her supplies from fellow vampire, and previously 16th century poet, Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt).

When the couple meet again in Adam’s rundown house, after the initial consolation, they do what any long term couple do. They enjoy each other’s company: going for walks, hanging out and listening to music. These moments are never made any less ordinary simply because they happen solely at night. For Adam, they are part of a reluctant acceptance that there actually are reasons to get up at night. Eve, infectiously played by Swinton, coaxes and coerces him out of his shell, blaming all his misgivings on socialising with Byron and Shelley back in the day.

It’s only when Eve’s sister turns up that things become a miss. Ava, a ginger whirlwind played by Mia Wasikowska, is passion of the immortal unkempt. A party girl without restraint, she tests the couple’s endurance of the outside world; reflecting as she does, everything Adam sees wrong with modern. It’s a superb performance, which, along with The Double, buries the misgivings of Alice in Wonderland.

At its heart, Only Lovers Left Alive is more a romance than anything else. Slow burning being its top speed, the film floats by like the thoughts one has at five in the morning after being up all night. It is an exquisite slice of nuanced filmmaking with a distant yet familiar sense of love. It is further enhanced by a soundtrack of feedback and strings provided by Jarmusch’s band SQÜRL. Put simply, Jarmusch has provided us with a suitably dark present of gothic modernism that is truly haunting.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012)

By now, you probably know the story; awkward teen girl meets brooding romantic vampire, they fall in love, and together face numerous supernatural challenges armed with copious eye-rolling and a perfectly coiffured do respectively. The final installment of the hugely successfully Twilight series however uses its final breath to experiment with the formula somewhat, with the introduction of Bella (Kristen Stewart) as a vampire herself.

Twilight’s appeal to its chosen demographic has always been the transparency of the Bella Swan character, an empty space of a teen to whom readers and viewers can project their own emotions and thus invest themselves within the love story. What does this mean now Bella is a vampire? Firstly, gone are the plaid shirts, angst and sighing. In a largely unsubtle wardrobe decision, vampire Bella struts around in heels and skirts for the majority of the movie whilst the rest of the Cullen clan coo around her about how beautiful she is now. Like Edward (Robert Pattinson), her vampirism seems to exude mainly from her hair, as Stewart amasses most of her screen time peeking out from under a Cheryl Cole style bouffant. It’s a transformation echoing Lindsay Lohan’s character arc in Mean Girls; all shallow gloss at the expense of what sincerity was once there. Ironically, Bella’s often irksome lip-biting and awkward aura of the first films retrospectively inspires more empathy than the immaculate Barbie doll of this finale. As such, never has the chemistry between Bella and Edward seemed more…well…dead.

So as the motivation of the previous films finally comes into fruition, how then does the narrative choose to proceed?

Well, not much at all really. We’re treated to a hilariously farcical introductory ten minutes in which Edward leads Bella around the forests of Forks for a tutorial in snarling, panting and grunting. It’s a pity that 5 movies in, there’s still no way of producing the running vampire sequences in a way as to inspire anything but laughter. Twilight is a series not particularly noted for its special effects achievements, but all that we’ve seen previously is no match for the sheer creepiness of Bella and Edward’s half vampire child, Renesmee. The computer generated baby sits so jarring and unevenly in the actors’ very real arms that one can’t help but shake the idea that you’re watching some kind of Playstation tie-in game. The child is explained as having accelerated growth which allows the film to conveniently side-step becoming an episode of Teen Mom, and indeed allows Edward and Bella to frequently shrug the responsibilities of young parenthood to retire to their honeymoon lodge. Whilst there they engage in soft focus vampire sex, which proves just as boring as the vampire-human copulation in the previous film and is once again accompanied by a wistful indie soundtrack.

When a threat befalls their ludicrously named child, the film’s second act plays like a vampire version of Ocean’s Eleven, as the Cullens recruit their supernatural friends from across the globe to attest to the child’s harmlessness. And, like Don Cheadle’s poorly judged Cock-a-ney accent in that film, so too does Twilight rely on stereotype to portray its posse’s varying roots, with the ginger-haired, flat-cap-wearing Irish fighting it out with the Eurovision contestant Russians for the crown of silliest. Helping the vampires is Jacob Black’s (Taylor Lautner) team of werewolves, and for the first time in the series, the human representation is largely gone. Billy Burke’s portrayal of Bella’s dad, one of the most consistently likeable of the franchise as a whole is sadly confined to the outskirts. Even his introduction to his newly vampiric daughter and her surprising offspring is all too brief for a character that has spent most of the series with the highest concern for his kin. He does however get a charmingly played scene with Lautner which is knowingly humourous, unlike the rest of the film.

Like most of the series, Breaking Dawn Part 2’s structure is uneven but the final act of the film rests on a plot device so bizarre that it confounds its audience to the point of bemusement. It’s a risk that instead of gaining kudos, serves only to show how dull and unexciting this is as a final part to a successful film franchise. Any energy in the film’s denouement is also undone by its following a saggy middle section from which the only respite is Michael Sheen’s deliciously evil Aro. A performance that straddles both quiet menace and out-and-out histrionics, Sheen is a highlight throughout the film and a great counterbalance to the overall lifelessness of all around him.

So whilst the attempts to deviate from formula are appreciated, it’s really a case of too little, too late, and as with most film franchises, if you weren’t on board with the first installments, you’re not going to start investing now.