What We Do In the Shadows

Once more the folks from New Zealand have managed to provide anotherclassic and as with much of the output from New Zealand, there is a calm “home-grown” feel to the work. Mocumentary films have generally left me feeling unsatisfied whilst the Point of View or “discovered lost footage type films also generally do very little for me; although As Above As Below (2014) was a notable exception. Often these films try to be too earnest or try to achieve too much on too small a budget to disastrous effects.

What we have here is a perfect example of knowing what you can do and making it work. As the film starts we are introduced to the cast of characters through Viago (Taika Waititi, The Green Lantern, 2011) a 350 year old vampire who, we learn, came to New Zealand in search of the love of his “life” after she moved there. The fact that his servant put the wrong postage on the coffin meant that it took him 18months to reach there, by which time she had fallen for another. Such are the stories which brought Viago and his flat-mates to where they are. We have Anton (Rhys Darby, MIB 3, 2012) and Vladislav, (Jemaine Clement, Flight of the Conchords) the lothario or the group, but we learn his powers have been seriously weakened by his crossing paths with “The Beast” and Petyr (30 Days of Night, Heron, 2007) who is the oldest vampire and resembles the classical “Nosferatu” given to us by Max Schrek ( Nosferatu, 1922). Deacon (Jonathan Brugh The Almighty Johnsons, Mascot man, 2011) the youngest and most rebellious of the group, he has serious issues about doing the washing-up.

Together, they make up a “normal” group of flatmates who are basically trying to get on with life (or death) as normally as possible. We see the flatmates through various stereotypes ; organised & controlled, sloppy , “divil may care” etc. The plot as such is that of a camera crew following the guys in the weeks leading up to the Un-holy Masquerade Ball. This film should not be funny because many of the standard vampire gags which you might expect are all there and in many cases are well sign-posted. But for those that are sign-posted there are many other gags which also work just as well which are fresh to the production. We see the guys go about their lives and join them on their night’s out and feeding habits. Their feeding is facilitated by Jackie (Jackie van Beek, Shortland Street , 1999), Vladislav’s human Familiar who through her not very competent efforts finds them two not very virginal virgins to feed on, they subsequently end up turning Nic (Cori Conzalez-Macuer (Eagle v shark, 2007) in to a vampire, much to Jackie’s disgust as she has been wanting to be turned for quite some time. Nic has a friend Stu who he invites over to meet the guys and against their better judgement the they strike up a friendship with Stu who heads out with them on their nights’ socialising.

Such is the friendship that he is invited to the Ball by the guys, the fact that he is alive does not go down well with a number of the guests, including “The Beast”. A subsequent run-in with some of the local werewolves provides for a minor comic twist near the end, capping out the story.

The movie works for a number of reasons, the script is sharp and flows well with some quit finny lines spread through-out. Dealing with a subject matter of vampires one might expect hugely expensive visual effects or indeed attempts that are so pitifully awful they make us cringe. Not having the budget for the former and too much class for the latter Clement and Waititi who both directed the film struck the right note. The special effects are kept to a level which does not over-extend their abilities while at the same time restricting them for best comedic effect.

This is not an overly long movie, which moves quickly while bringing you with them all along the way. The jokes follow the situations with some excellent delivery. **** movie.

Under The Skin

Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast , 2000), is not one of the world’s most prolific directors, but what he does produce is always noteworthy and of merit, even if it requires you to work with him. Under the Skin is such a movie. One of the first things to make itself obvious in the film is the use of light and colours, either the extreme whiteness (and also black) of her environment, an area without seems or borders, we see only light, or in the scenes of what we take as her lair, we see a dark void absent any obvious light source, or surfaces. The opening sequence takes us from the sterile bright white of an alien environment (or consciousness, we don’t know) to the dull, dreary urban motorway scenes of our aliens (we take the bike rider as being another alien) driving around mainly urban Scotland. While the picture painted by her travelling is not one of joy and happiness but rather a cold searching. The atmosphere, the scenery and even some of the people encountered along the way, are not the type that you would put on a “Visit Scotland” poster, they are real and ordinary with nothing much to sell them.

How long she is on the planet we don’t know, but she is able to drive a Transit van and communicate in flawless English (for what little dialogue there is in the movie). Scarlett Johansson (Her, 2013), play what is a challenging role brilliantly, her acting is visual, with little chance to add to scenes through dialogue. She seems “comfortable in her skin” or so to speak, yet she spends her days driving around looking for people who will not be noticed missing too quickly. As we see her driving it becomes obvious she’s is driving for a reason, she is hunting. Like a spider, she lures her victims to her, first chatting to them to get them in to her van and then into her “lair”. Her lair is a dark void, in the same sense of the white scenes were of a white void, with no obvious dimensions which swallows up her victims.

The film is almost silent, with any dialogue sparse and only as needed, at least 70% to 80% of the movie is non-dialogue. After the usual initial small talk we see her with her victims, back in the “eternal void” while we think we are used to the void, we see that there is more to it. Her mail victims never reach or connect with her, indeed as they approach her, they are subsumed into an liquid, best described as akin to embryonic fluid. She walks over it as if it is solid, it is only as her later that the realise that the liquid is a storage area, not visible from above, but from within. We are not told if this is her natural environment or some type of psychological analogue of what is happening. One thing you will notice is the cold emotionless performance by Johansson. We observe her from an emotional distance, we’re along for the ride, but not part of the experience. If you are looking for an action packed shoot-em-up, go look somewhere else, If you are looking for a lost Kubrick, then it will suit you perfectly. We are only allowed to observe this movie, always kept at a safe distance. As the movie progresses we get the feeling she is less familiar with her surroundings, or at least less comfortable, indeed the scene in the woods shows just how alien she is, literally and figuratively.

The dialogue, where it happens is clipped and pared back to the bare minimum, only used for what is needed. Indeed one of the movies pivotal parts is where here latest victim is descending in to the liquid and sees another older victim, now disfigured by his time in the liquid. Rather than recoil, the new victim makes his way to the other and without words they reach out and touch. The connection to the other, whoever they are is preferable to isolation.

One cannot help but wonder if the dark area and fluid, and even the bright white scene are her natural environment, the place where she is calm and safe, a place of isolation. Whereas out and about on Earth she is surrounded by dimensions, noises, colours, sounds and tastes etc. This environment is alien to her, just as her’s is to us. We also notice the difference in styles of person, the talking youths eager for her company, these are ordinary people, using ordinary lines, but still against her silence.

In some senses it reminds of (Upstream Colour (Carruth, 2013), the visuals are a significant part of the story, even surpassing the dialogue. We are also left to discover the movie as it progresses, working out the clues and interpretations as we move along. Aliens (in Earth based movies) generally fall into one of two categories, the big nasty evils one who want to destroy us, or the cute one, usually lost or homesick, Here we might have a mixture of both, or do we. We have a creature which looks like is will do no harm, but we know the skin she inhabits is not her own and like a spider, the males she beguiles are lured to her lair and trapped.

It is hinted by visuals that she is not alone and that there are other aliens, but this is never confirmed, such is the movie. This is not a movie to fill a wet Saturday evening, no you watch this only if you are willing to work at it and take in all it has to deliver.

This is a work which has been well assembled, superbly acted by Johansson with cinematography which not only compliments the acting but is a necessary part of the story, of the work. Not the easiest movie to watch, but not the worst by any measure, indeed it is one which rewards the effort.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

This is a movie which should have worked much better than it did. An historical fantasy horror, it had the right ingredients. With people like Rufus Sewell (Zen, Aurelio Zen, 2011) and Dominic Cooper (The Devil’s Double, Latif Yahia, 2011) they should have been well able to play off each other, but they were in a support cast so their influence would have been limited.  Added to this the director, Timur Bekmambetov  , who brought us those great Day Watch, (2006) and Night Watch (2004) movies.

Benjamin Walker, a relative unknown, (Flags of Our Fathers, Harlon Block, 2006) acquitted himself well and whether it was the relative inexperience or the character, he came across much as we would have expected of a characterization of Abraham Lincoln.  The story line follows a young Lincoln looking to revenge his mother’s death at the hands of a vampire, while trying to kill the particular vampire (not knowing he’s a vampire) he meets  Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) who teaches him how to kill vampires and then sends him to Springfield which was seemingly a hotbed of vampires.  As the movie progresses it becomes clear that he needs to come up against Adam (Rufus Sewell) one of the oldest vampires (he tells us he is five thousand years old).


There follows a series of vampire hunting fights and struggles over the years until he eventually becomes President.  Here we see the vampiric legend superimposed on the historical timeline. Lincoln’s son who of course died in childhood is in the movie Killed by a vampire.   There are also implications for the war as Adam agrees to deploy vampires for the Confederacy, this of course is a potential game changer.

There is only one person (well three if we include his friends, his wife (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, The Thing, Kate Lloyd, 2011) and of course Mr. Sturgess…so that’s tree humans and a vampire.

They of course come up with a plan to save the world and in so doing so create the movies big dénouement.  This is probably where the movie was let down most, but in fast scenes, appropriate scene music and give our actors plenty of life threatening situations and you should have a good action sequence. Unfortunately everything was just too well scripted.  A kid can be thought how to work a mathematical problem to its end through the use of a formula.  A mathematician can take the same formula and create something new and exciting; Bekmambetov is a “mathematician” by any standards so I have no reason why this movie did not work.

There were a number of leaps of faith, at least one very poor continuity issue and some scenes which were just too contrived.  The use of mid 19th century sunglasses by all was actually a nice touch which could have been over done but was not.

Rating 4/10, this should have been a much better movie but I suspect something just did not work in the production.  This is not a bad film, it just did not engage me or bring me in to the story.