As far as the international reach of New Zealand cinema goes, I would guess that Taika Waititi is probably the most successful export of this decade. He made his directing debut with the quirky Eagle vs Shark (2007), starring Jemaine Clement from the Flight of the Conchords, which I somewhat liked if not quite as much as some people did. His next film was Boy, which took its time to find international audiences (it didn’t get a release in the UK until many years later) but is generally regarded as one of his finest works, and he followed it up with the low-budget Wellington vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows (2014), which I’ve reviewed elsewhere on this site. After the success of Hunt for the Wilderpeople his following films have had a far more international flavour, without entirely losing his distinctive voice (given he does like to cast himself in his projects). The film I’ve omitted below is Thor: Ragnarok (2017), which as Marvel superhero movie, can’t quite be fit into the same category, though it retains plenty of his humour and is one of the better titles in that seemingly endless run of superhero films.
The ‘mockumentary’ is a canny choice of genre for a New Zealand film, as its documentary form hides some of the shortcomings that come from low-budget production. We’re relying on the charisma of the performers and their comic writing (already tested in such ensembles as actor/writer/director Jemaine Clement’s Flight of the Conchords, who had their own US TV series for a couple of seasons), rather than the quality of the sets and camerawork. And as a comedy take on the popular vampire legend — appropriating all the iconography and transposing it to a quotidian situation of three mates in New Zealand sharing a flat together — it certainly has its pleasing moments, with strong turns from its three leads, particularly Taika Waititi as the upbeat central vampire, Viago. It was also nice for me to see my adopted home city of Wellington on screen for a while, as a lot of it is shot on location in the streets. Yet despite there being some good laughs, it still feels like a bit of a throwback to the 80s and 90s when this kind of film was at the height of its popularity, and stylistically it’s particularly reminiscent of the Belgian film C’est arrivé près de chez vous (Man Bites Dog, 1992), with its similarly deadpan mockumentary take on a serial killer — functionally, not a million miles removed from a vampire. As ever, a lot of the good gags are in the trailer, and the feature length doesn’t always make them more resonant (I gather that the film originated in an earlier short film by the same team). Still, I did laugh (quite a bit at times), so for those looking for some light relief and a bit of meta-humour at cinema’s expense, it’s a fine choice.
Directors/Writers Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement; Cinematographers Richard Bluck and D.J. Stipsen; Starring Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Jonathan Brugh; Length 85 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Wednesday 26 November 2014.