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'What We Do in the Shadows:' Doesn't Suck

GARY THOMPSON, Daily News Staff Writer thompsg@phillynews.com, 215-854-5992

Updated: Friday, February 20, 2015, 12:16 AM

For Jemaine Clement and other vampire friends, it's just another endless night of what they do in the shadows.

I SUPPOSE it's a fool's errand to persuade you to see the touching, funny "What We Do in the Shadows," another fake documentary, and about vampires, no less.

These are the movies' most sucked-dry genres, done to undeath very recently by Tim Burton, Jim Jarmusch and Marlon Wayans, because Burton and Jarmusch had forgotten to include fart jokes.

You'll find none of those in "Shadows," or showy star turns, or hipster vampire posturing that fronts for a sour view of humanity.

Happily, you'll get the opposite. For example, one scene finds a vampire at the nursing home where an old woman he once loved - still loves - now lives.

"I know what people are thinking," he says. "What's this 96-year-old woman doing with a vampire four times her age?"

That's a pretty good line, and it's also sincere. For all its absurdity, "What We Do in the Shadows" has heart and a strange kind of compassion for its subjects, whom we come to see less as vampires and more as schlubs like us, stumbling through life. The fact that "life" never ends makes the struggle all the more poignant.

That's the joke behind the movie's reality-TV approach. Four vampire flatmates in Wellington, New Zealand, invite a documentary crew to record their lives and loves. But while "real" reality TV yields only farcical artifice, the farcical artifice of "Shadows" yields something unexpectedly real, as the problems of the vampire roomies become familiar and human.

Viago (Taika Waititi) is the 17th-century dandy who can't get the others to do dishes. Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) is the self-styled heartthrob. Displacing Vlad (Jemaine Clement) is a has-been Transylvanian ladies man whose powers of hypnosis have faded.

They maintain a fragile peace within their flat and within their Wellington neighborhood (the movie can be read as a metaphor for any number of marginalized subcultures) until an unsufferably brash new vampire, Nick (Cori Gonzales-Macuer), shows up.

Among Nick's dangerous habits - he won't give up his human friend, Stu (Stuart Rutherford), whom he drags to supernatural parties, like the Unholy Masquerade at the Cathedral of Despair, an event full of hungry zombies, vampires and werewolves.

"What are you?" they ask Stu.

"A software engineer," he says, standing there in his Dockers and Members Only jacket, desperate to fit in. Here, "Shadows" once again reverses the elitist polarity of vampire-movie symbolism.

Nevertheless, I fear that "What We Do in the Shadows," like poor, un-hypnotic Vlad, will end up beckoning fruitlessly to the disinterested.

See me! See me!

The movie itself is like a vampire.

You'll have to invite it in.

Blog: philly.com/keepitreel

Online: ph.ly/Movies

GARY THOMPSON, Daily News Staff Writer thompsg@phillynews.com, 215-854-5992

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