What We Do In the Shadows Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi
Published Feb 12, 2015While many vampire films contain at least a whiff of gallows humour, and an even greater number easily strike the pulsing jugular of unintentional comedy, the sexiest of undead archetypes (unless the pliability of necrotic tissue is just your thing) is rarely employed primarily as a laugh generator (calm down, Once Bitten aficionados). Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords, Gentlemen Broncos) and Taika Waititi (Eagle vs Shark) have made a valiant, coolly successful attempt to balance those blood-soaked scales with this fang-in-cheek lampoon engine of hilarity.
Going the mockumentary route, the co-directors (who also co-wrote and co-star in the film along with Jonathan Brugh, in a breakout performance) perfectly capture the tone of reality television in all its confessional, self-important and sad, pathos-inspiring awkwardness. To give the conceit of vampire flatmates a narrative trajectory, a team of documentarians have been granted access to this supernatural rooming house leading up to an annual masquerade ball for all the bloodsuckers in New Zealand. Slight, sure, but plot is neither the chief concern of the film nor its appeal.
Each embodying a living caricature of a different phase of popular vampire mythology (though we're spared a modern sparkle nonce), Vladislav (Bram Stoker's medieval impaler type), Viago (the Anne Rice dandy), Deacon (the sex Nazi — wait, is that a thing?) and Petyr (a primordial Nosferatu) serve double duty for the farce flinging as the adept improvisers milk laughs by skewering these tropes while deriving most of the humour from humdrum cohabitation and interpersonal relationship issues; arguments over dish duties are given as much weight as guest eating etiquette and the troubles of being stylish without a reflection.
What We Do In the Shadows hinges on a conceit that could easily grow tiresome in less capable hands, but Clement and Waititi do an excellent job of keeping up the momentum of minor narrative threads while unearthing every laugh possible from the silly but often endearingly earnest scenarios. They're also given a major assist by surprisingly seamless visual effects work (members of Weta Workshop found time to take a break from rendering the toe hairs of hobbits), top-notch production design and sharp, comedic editing.
For lovers of blood and guffaws and anyone with roommate horror stories to reflect on, What We Do In the Shadows is a hilarious slice of life to sink your teeth into.