We take a look at the best faux-documentaries to hit the big screen…

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS is released in Irish cinemas this week. The film, set and shot like a documentary, is written, directed by and stars Jemaine Clement, of FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS fame. WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS follows three flatmates through their lives, as they overcome the struggles of being centuries old vampires who must feed on human blood to survive.
The over the top, mockumentary style of WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS inspired Movies.ie to take a look back at some other great films that were shot and framed as faux-documentaries.

THIS IS SPINAL TAP

The mother of all mockumentaries written by and starring the mother of all mockumentary makers; Christopher Guest. Before A MIGHTY WIND, BEST IN SHOW and WAITING FOR GUFFMAN, Guest helped to create one of the finest mockumentaries ever; THIS IS SPINAL TAP.
The film follows Spinal Tap – proudly proclaimed as ‘one of England’s loudest bands’ – on a tour to promote their newest album; Smell the Glove. Of course, things do not go to plan, and Spinal Tap’s glorious tour gets smaller and smaller due to dwindling ticket sales and laughable mistakes. The joy of THIS IS SPINAL TAP comes from the ludicrous situations that the band members find themselves in, situations that are all too real. The satire of rock documentaries is quick and cutting, and there is very little to love about the misadventures of the band. Oh, and the songs rock pretty hard too!

DROP DEAD GORGEOUS

Before she was Mary-Jane Watson, Kirsten Dunst starred in the darkly comic film about beauty pageant contestants who will do almost anything to win; DROP DEAD GORGEOUS. The film follows the contestants in a beauty pageant called the Sarah Rose Cosmetics Mount Rose American Teen Princess Pageant, held in the small fictional town of Mount Rose, Minnesota, in which various contestants begin to die in suspicious ways.
Although DROP DEAD GORGEOUS was not that well received when it was first released, it has gone on to gain a cult following in the years since. The film is more self consciously over the top than THIS IS SPINAL TAP, but the comedy is still there in the exaggerated ways that eh girls fight for success.

I’M STILL HERE

In early 2009, movie fans around the world feared that Joaquin Phoenix had lost the run of himself all together, when he launched a rap career and appeared on David Letterman looking scruffy and unkempt. It was revealed in 2010 that the joke was on us, however, as Phoenix was working on I’M STILL HERE, a mockumentary directed by his brother in law Casey Affleck.
The film, styled as a documentary, follows Joaquin Phoenix as he attempts to become a rapper, having announced his retirement from acting. Although Phoenix’s appearances while making the film had the world talking, I’M STILL HERE failed to capture public imagination. That said, the film is a mesmerising look into the world of celebrity, and the toll this can take on a person. Less funny than tragic, I’M STILL HERE is certainly a provocative piece of cinema.

AMERICAN ZOMBIE

Before zombies caught public imagination thanks to THE WALKING DEAD, AMERICAN ZOMBIE used the zombie as metaphor to examine life in LA and identity politics, all while sending up the documentary style of filmmaking as a whole.
Two documentary filmmakers set out to make a film about the zombie subculture of LA. They discover that there are three types of zombies; the feral, the low functioning, and the ones that can pass as human. Although the zombies all deny that they are cannibals, citing this as a negative stereotype, the filmmakers soon discover that not all assumptions are false.
AMERICAN ZOMBIE was generally well received on its debut at Slamdance, and uses satire to truly bite (Sorry!) at issues in America at the time.

THE RUTLES: ALL YOU NEED IS CASH

Inspired by Eric Idle’s desire to portray a documentary maker so boring that the camera repeatedly runs away from him, THE RUTLES: ALL YOU NEED IS CASH is an intentionally satirical look at the career of The Beatles. The film starred Eric Idle, Neil Innes, John Halsley and Ricky Fataar as the titular Rutles, and had many cameos including George Harrison as a TV reporter.
The film charts The Rutles’ rise to fame, which closely follows The Beatles’ path to stardom. The film served as inspiration for Rob Reiner and Christopher Guest’s THIS IS SPINAL TAP, and the songs – written by Innes, Ollie Halsall, Ricky Fataar and John Halsley – so cleverly imitated the style and sound of The Beatles that Innes was taken to court by the owners of The Beatles’ catalogue.
A follow up film – a retelling of ALL YOU NEED IS CASH in a modern setting – called THE RUTLES 2: CAN’T BUY ME LUNCH was released in 2002.

Honourable mentions to: A MIGHTY WIND, MAN BITES DOG and THE INCIDENT AT LOCH NESS.

Do you have a favourite mockumentary? Let us know in the comments below…

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS is released in Irish cinemas on November 21st, 2014

Words: Brogen Hayes