Who knew that a mockumentary about four vampires living together in a flat in New Zealand could be so genuinely entertaining? Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi co-wrote, directed and starred in this gem of a comedy that has sadly seen very limited release in the U.S. despite positive response. What We Do in the Shadows is a fresh twist on the vampire genre and it delivers consistent laughs while never straying far from old vampire clichés, and that’s not a bad thing.
So many vampire movies are either focused on horror elements or romantic elements. This movie throws both of those out the window, and what we’re left with is a lot of deadpan humor involving legitimate problems you could imagine would arise in a household of centuries-old vampires. Tension over someone not doing their chores, accidentally hitting main arteries while feeding on humans and spraying blood all over the place, not being able to enjoy a night on the town without being invited into nightclubs, and the difficulties getting dressed while not having a reflection to judge yourself in. The mundane issues that follow a group of immortal creatures who are out of touch with the modern world actually provide a lot more laughs than you would think.
Viago (Taika Waititi) is a 379-year-old vampire who is a bit of compulsive character. He calls flatmate meetings so that he can discuss who is and who isn’t doing their chores, and why it’s necessary to put down newspaper when one of them decides to sink their teeth into their victims while sitting on the living room sofa. He still dresses like a 18th century European aristocrat with the puffy-sleeved shirts, and he tries to maintain a semblance of civility, but in the end, he’s still a vampire who needs to feed on people. The difference is he tries to give his victims a good time in the last moments of their lives, like a true vampire gentleman.
Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) is an 862-year-old vampire whose appearance is reminiscent of the Gary Oldman type in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. When we first see him, he’s in a red silk sheeted bed with three women, hissing at the camera. We learn later that he has his own torture room, although he rarely uses it anymore. He also used to have a skill for mind control, but has never been the same since an encounter with a creature only referred to as “The Beast.”
Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) is the “cool, young vampire” at a ripe 183-years-old, looking like he stepped right out of a slightly older version of The Lost Boys, with his leather pants and stereotypical “vampires are sexy” attitude. He gets scolded for letting the dishes pile up for five years, and he has a “familiar” named Jackie (Jackie van Beek), who he orders to do daytime errands for him with the false promise that one day he might turn her. One of these errands involves finding two virgins to bring to the house for dinner. The fact that virgins are hard to come by is just one of the many problems these vampires face on a daily basis. While there’s no real need to have virgin blood, Vladislav explains the preference, saying, “I think of it like this. If you are going to eat a sandwich, you would just enjoy it more if you knew no one had fucked it.” Fair enough.
One of the humans she brings to dinner is Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer). When he figures out he’s just been lured into a pit of vampires, he tries to escape, leading to a hilarious chase down dark hallways, with some funny wire work and use of CGI. Fortunately, he’s caught by Petyr (Ben Fransham), the fourth flatmate who has a habit of turning people instead of killing them. He doesn’t speak and he lives in the basement and sleeps in a cement tomb. He’s the Nosferatu of the four vampires, and he’s relieved of household duties and flatmate meetings due to the fact that he’s 8,000-years-old.
With the addition of Nick, the vampires lives become a little less mundane. Now they are dealing with a very young vampire who can’t keep his mouth shut about who and what he is. His struggle to adapt is hilarious. He has trouble flying in through windows, but has an incessant need to do so just because he can. He doesn’t know that eating chips leads to projectile vomiting of blood. He also comes out to his best friend, Stu (Stuart Rutherford), who accepts him as a vampire. Stu is quickly accepted as a friend by them all for being a genuinely likable guy who works at an IT company. He helps the old vampires get reconnected with the modern world through technology. It’s funny how they take to him like a new pet.
Oh, and if the vampires weren’t enough, there are werewolves, too. The vampires run into a pack led by Anton (Rhys Darby), who insists that his pack maintain their tempers, reminding them, “We’re werewolves, not swearwolves.” Yes, there’s a lot that this film offers in terms of fantastical details, and they’re all presented humorously.
Is this one of those corny, cheap parody type films? No. It’s so much better. It’s witty and the actors have a great sense of comedic timing. I laughed the whole way through. The mockumentary style of filming is so fitting, it’s never distracting, and it contributes to the bizarreness of what goes on in the movie. What We Do in the Shadows is more on the level of films like This is Spinal Tap than anything else. There isn’t too much beneath the surface here, it’s a simple plot, but it’s a worthwhile comedy and at a brisk 84 minutes, it’s a very easy watch. It didn’t get the wide release it deserved, but if it happens to come to a theater near you, you should drop what you’re doing and go see this.