This month in home video releases I look at three films – Australian film The Infinite Man, Elmore Leonard adaptation Life of Crime, and New Zealand bred comedy What We Do in the Shadows. All are available on DVD now from Madman.
I’ve noticed a trend with extremely low-budget films in recent years: they frequently feel like overlong shorts. Don’t get me wrong, there are good ideas here, but they would have a much bigger impact if told in 20 minutes instead of feature length, where it wouldn’t feel stretched as thin.
Hugh Sullivan’s The Infinite Man, the latest in a recent string of backyard made sci-fi films, is, while occasionally funny and charming with a Wes Anderson-like eccentricity, has an idea that strains to fill its compact 81 minute runtime. The film centres around Dean, an eccentric scientist (Josh McConville) who creates a time machine to try create the perfect anniversary weekend for his girlfriend Lana (Hannah Marshall) after Lana’s ex Terry shows up. Obsessed with micromanaging and continually going back in time to try make history go his way, Dean eventually loses Lana in an infinite time loop. The opening minutes of the film offer some laughs and originality, the offbeat setting and low-budget charm being quite refreshing, but as it reaches it halfway mark, like Dean’s time machine, the cracks start to show. The endless repetition of the same scene lacks the freshness to be perceived as necessary, coming off as a way to fill in time instead, and eventually, like Dean, the film becomes tedious.
I first saw What We Do in the Shadows last year, upon its cinema release in Australia. While I was hoping I would be slightly more enthusiastic about it upon a rewatch, my feelings have remained largely the same, so here’s my review from then:
I’m no expert on vampire films, or anything to do with horror, but even to an outsider like myself, it’s easy to see that What We Do In the Shadows is here to basically breathe some new life into a genre that has turned to a laughing stock.
While Twilight seemed to make legions of teenage girls want to “get bitten” (I’m proud to say that even though I was the prime age for this craze, I never read the books or saw the movies) even though it looked like possibly one of the worst lifestyle choices ever (a pasty Robert Pattinson, crazy immortal family members that tear the place apart at a single drop of blood, and that birth scene? No way), What We Do in the Shadows makes it look pretty good again.
Like this year’s underseen Only Lovers Left Alive, there’s not much in the way of dense, expositional plotting in What We Do in the Shadows. It’s instead (albeit Shadows does it in a more direct way through a mockmentary format) just wandering around with some people that are literally living out every hipster that has said “I was born in the wrong generation’s” dream. It’s basically a 90 minute hangout as a bunch of vampires argue about not cleaning up after well, you know…being vampires, arguing about chores not being done, having no reflections in the mirror, and learning martial arts while levitating. Once it turns to night and (most of) the danger of spontaneously combusting disappears and Viago, Vladislav and Deacon venture outside of their flat and into Vellington, it only gets funnier. There’s werewolves, vampire meetings at the local bowls club, and the dangers of eating human food. There’s no “I’ve been 16 for a long time”, creepily preying on teenage girls or skin that looks like it’s had a bucket of glitter dumped over it, instead they’re the kind of cool, punk-rock, laidback beings that get to go out all night and sleep all day like rockstars. It’s similar to the misfits of Boy the ragtag bunch of cousins that all live with their grandma. Except in Shadows, it’s about the vampires having to assimilate to their surroundings, finding out how to live in the 21st century and discovering Skype and digital photography.
Like Boy, What We Do in the Shadows is one of the most consistent comedies of the year. It doesn’t rely on one big joke that mostly gets spoiled in the trailer, instead the laughs flow as fast as the blood. Literally everything gets made fun of here – the share house stereotypes of the one that is sleazy and brings home too many girls, the one that doesn’t pay rent, the one that doesn’t do the dishes (and hasn’t for five years). Oh and also, you know the one that lives downstairs and never talks is a few thousand years old.
Overall, What We Do in the Shadows has the same lived in and homemade charm like the sparklers in Boy and it’s certainly as entertaining and original. It takes vampire traits that were taken way too seriously in movies such as Twilight and their many offshoots that were wafter-thin, and makes them appropriately hilarious – because, as cool as they are, immortality is a pretty hilarious idea, being forever young, getting to experience every time period at the same age.
It’s pretty much accepted by now that if a film is set in the 70s, bell bottoms, mustard yellow colour scheme and all, it’s bound to be enjoyable, even for people who were born long after that decade. The 70s just have a wild, magnetic type of nostalgia about them, the type that is irresistible. Life of Crime is based on the Elmore Leonard, whose work has spawned many films including Jackie Brown and Get Shorty, novel The Switch. Daniel Schechter’s treatment of this tale of extortion gone wrong and unlikely romance features an all-star cast outfitted in polyester and tweed to boot, including Jennifer Aniston, Isla Fisher, yasiin bey, John Hawkes, Tim Robbins, and Will Forte. Up against its contemporaries, it falls short, the 98 minute run time dragging in a series of plot twists, but boasts great performances from Aniston, Fisher, bey, and Hawkes that keep it intriguing.