It was recently Hallowe’en and late as usual to the party, I’m going to compare two horror movies I recently watched on Netflix! I was fortunate recently to see two films, one of which is probably now among my favourites, the other being a fairly dismal exercise in filmmaking. So for the benefit of anyone suffering the post Hallowe’en blues, let’s get right in to my picks. One of which was a mockumentary horror comedy which had two key Flight of the Conchords members involved along with the most renowned New Zealand filmmaker in the business. The other is a Stephen King film: no more need be said.
Yesflix – What We Do In the Shadows
Written, directed by and starring Taika Waititi (Boy) and Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords), What We Do in the Shadows is an exhilarating and distinct take on the vampire genre.
The majority of the film focuses of Viago, Vladislav, Deacon and Petyr, four vampires sharing a flat in modern day Wellington, New Zealand and the collective shake-up the group experiences when twenty something local Nick is turned into a vampire. Each of the characters is well developed, with their own unique quirks: Viago the fastidious and romantic dandy, Vladislav the perverted madman with a medieval torture fixation and Deacon the 183 year old ‘young bad boy of the group’ who fled Germany for political reasons (“if you were a Nazi after the war<shakes head>and if you were a vampire<pause>and if you were a Nazi Vampire, no way! I was out of there”) I do not exaggerate when I say I haven’t seen a movie this quotable since Airplane. The pacing of the dialogue is comedy gold, with a conversation beginning with a flat meeting and ending with Viago and Deacon hovering in the air, hissing at each other.
The film mostly keeps its tongue firmly in cheek with the portrayal of the vampires, poking fun of their antiquated obsession with drinking virgin blood and questioning how vampires can be so stylish when being unable to check their reflection. The ludicrous, melodramatic behaviour of the vampires becomes more amusing when set against deadpan New Zealand folk, or indeed the comically zen werewolves, led admirably by Rhys Darby as the alpha male, Anton. However, the writing does not shy away from the grotesque nature of the vampires. Petyr (who closely resembles Max Schreck’s character in Nosferatu) lives in the basement of the house in a den riddled with decaying human remains. However, even this is sometimes played up for comic effect, featuring a hilariously over the top gore scene when Viago attempts to bite a lady he is wooing.
Through the well-paced drama and comic timing that Waititi and Clement provide the viewer is quickly drawn into the film’s world and led to sympathize with the vampires, especially Viago, as their gruesome behaviour and violent actions become the norm. I spotted this when my friends and I were visibly sad when a piece of dialogue states that a dog has to be put down, only to realize we had witnessed the violent slaughter of at least half a dozen innocent people throughout the film without batting an eyelid. The character of Viago dwells on the lonely nature of a vampire’s existence without indulging too much in sentimentalism, resolving the dandy bloodsucker’s tragic lot with a resolution which is as amusing as it is heart-warming. What We Do in the Shadows is a strikingly witty piece, laying into a frightening concept with sharp incredulity and yet still maintains a surprising level of sincerity. 10/10 would watch again.
Fans Of Buffy The Vampire Slayer And Interview With A Vampire Will Love This!
Noflix – Thinner
Stephen King. What can I say about the man’s work that hasn’t been said already? Although many of his works have been adapted seamlessly to screen with such horror and drama masterpieces as Misery, Carrie, The Shining, The Green Mile and Stand by Me, there have been some pretty corny films and miniseries such as the ill-fated attempt at a more accurate Shining miniseries (1997) or the frankly cringe worthy adaptations of the Lawnmower Man or It (enjoyable though they may be). However, Thinner well and truly takes the cake (or cherry pie) as one of the most awkward, unpleasant and frankly mean-spirited films with King’s name attached.
Bill Halleck is an obese, successful lawyer with ambiguous morals who begins the film by successfully acquitting gangster Richie the Hammer (Joe Mantegna: yes Fat Tony was involved with this train-wreck). Halleck make a big mistake when, distracted by the amorous attentions of his wife, he accidentally runs over an elderly woman who turns out to be the daughter of Tadzu Lempke, leader of a troupe of Romani (the film opts for the less Pc ‘gypsy’ most of the time) carnival folk who are passing through town. Halleck escapes conviction and is cursed by Lempke to grow thinner. After a few happy days, Halleck realizes he can’t stop losing weight and will be dead within a few weeks. That’s pretty much it, Halleck sets out to lift the curse and spends the rest of the film at war with the carnival folk, enlisting the help of Richie to find and subdue Lempke.
There are many things wrong with this movie I could point out: stilted acting, laughable special effects or its underwhelming soundtrack. Apart from one surprisingly poignant line from Lempke, the film lacks any self-awareness regarding the colonial overtones of an upper-class white lawyer swearing destruction on a group of socially vulnerable minorities. The ‘gypsies’ are presented without any degree of irony or doubt as overtly sexual, criminal and indulging in witchcraft, reinforcing centuries of racist mythology and presenting the view that this group is to be feared rather than understood. But Thinner is not the first film to use the ‘Gypsy Curse’ plot-line and as such is not unique in this failing.
At the core of the movie its main flaw is just how mean it is. Halleck is a corrupt rat in a suit who shows little regard for anyone but himself, Richie is a merciless thug who nearly ruined Fat Tony for me forever, and Halleck’s wife and doctor are seeing each other behind Halleck’s back as he wastes away. The viewer has little to no sympathy for the protagonist, the antagonist or any surrounding characters. This is hardly, again, unique to Thinner, but the lack of any redeemable character doesn’t take the audience anywhere or illustrate anything. The film could have been an opportunity to explore the amoral approach to justice involved with lawyers or its corruptibility when dealing with disadvantaged groups. But the film mainly concludes with a malicious fizzle and a weak “people are terrible, aren’t they?” message. It’s rather sad to think this film was released just two years after The Shawshank Redemption. King must have definitely had mixed feelings about it. Don’t watch this, even to mock it. Especially not for diet tips.