NZ | 2014 | Directed by Taika Waititi & Jermaine Clement
Logline: A documentary portrait of four very different vampires who share a house and attempt to live normally amongst mortals.
In the tradition of This is Spinal Tap, What We Do in the Shadows is a mockumentary that follows three undead men around their house and small town as they, mostly, make fools of themselves (a fourth vampire essentially remains housebound). It’s a low-budget affair, loose and rough around the edges, but infused with charismatic personalities, and it exudes a curious, fetid charm.
Viago (Taika Waititi) is a slightly goofy three-hundred-and-seventy-nine-year-old vampire. He tries to keep the household together and calls for flat meetings to address the state of the dishes. Deacon (Jonathon Brugh), aged 183, the young vamp on the block, hasn’t been pulling his weight. He thinks his suave sexiness warrants laziness. Then there’s Vladislav (Jermaine Clement), a mature 862-years-old, and the more decadent and nonchalant of the three flatmates. Finally there is Petyr (Ben Fransham), the uber-creepy Nosferatu, down in the basement. He’s about 8,000 years ancient, and looks it.
The three vampires present their issues and yearnings, explain their trials and tribulations: the struggle with living in a contemporary world, the age-old problem of having to avoid sunlight and drink the blood of mortals to maintain their youth. It seems the quaint old township of Wellington, New Zealand, has charmed the world-weary undead. But it is romance that continues to plague them.
Based on a short film Clement and Waititi made in 2006 What We Do in the Shadows feels like a short that’s been expanded to feature length. It’s a series of comical vignettes, with the vampires having to deal with the mundane day-to-day chores, but the jokes don’t always hit home, some falling flat, while others warrant barely a chuckle. I certainly wouldn’t describe the movie as “hilarious”, despite the quote being used ad infinitum on the movie’s poster design. Admittedly high expectation can be a dangerous thing.
One of the genuinely laugh-out-loud scenes is a nocturnal confrontation between our undead subjects and a pack of roaming lycanthropes. The vampires pass the werewolves and words are exchanged, expletives even. Anton (Rhys Darby in fine dry form) immediately addresses the standoff, “We’re werewolves, not swearwolves!”
This is a broadly entertaining vampire comedy that squeezes every inch of humour from the vampire lore. The performances are solid, though I found Clement’s curiously subdued. Ultimately it’s a shame the movie isn’t as eccentric or quirky as Flight of the Conchords or Boy, or the overall comic tone a few shades darker, as I think that would’ve given the movie the delicious neck cult flavour it so clearly demands.